Saudi Arabia And China Embark On ‘Blue Sword’ Exercises

Saudi Arabia and China have started their joint naval exercises named “Blue Sword” this week. Initially unveiled in 2019 near the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah, this year’s exercise, attended by hundreds of troops, was launched from the southern Chinese city of Zhanjiang. Both nations view these drills as crucial in strengthening their military ties, signaling a possible shift in Middle Eastern geopolitical dynamics.

China’s state-run Global Times reported that the intent of these exercises is “to boost the mutual trust and friendly relations between the Chinese and the Saudi Arabian navies.” The drills are meticulously planned, breaking down into a basic training phase, a professional training phase, and a comprehensive drill phase. It will encompass more than 20 training subjects, including but not limited to live-fire shooting, fast-roping from helicopters, cabin searches and underwater reconnaissance.

The comprehensive drill, intriguingly, is built around a simulated hijacking of a commercial ship. This ship will then be rescued by Chinese and Saudi naval special operations forces, testing the mettle of both nations in a high-stakes environment.

This joint exercise has garnered attention, especially given its timing. It coincides with the recent Hamas attack on Israel — a point noted by many but not overtly discussed by participants in the “Blue Sword” drills. Moreover, the Eurasian Times has pointed out that the exercises may bolster China’s presence in the Middle East, especially when traditional alliances seem to waver.

The connection between Saudi Arabia and the United States, a long-standing alliance, has recently shown signs of strain, particularly as the Ukraine War continues and Riyadh’s stance on oil production remains uncertain. The U.S.’s recent attempts to broker peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel, particularly after the Hamas attacks, have lost momentum. Such a geopolitical backdrop has allowed Beijing to strengthen its influence, as seen by its mediation efforts that led to a landmark agreement between long-time adversaries, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Both countries’ militaries are optimistic about the outcomes of the “Blue Sword” exercises. “The joint training between the special warfare units of the two navies is of great significance to deepening the pragmatic and friendly cooperation between the two militaries,” quoted the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) commander overseeing the exercise. The sentiment was echoed by an unnamed Chinese joint training unit commander, emphasizing mutual learning and improving joint action capabilities.

The exercises symbolize the burgeoning military collaboration between Saudi Arabia and China and highlight the evolving geopolitical landscape in the Middle East. With China conducting similar exercises with nations like Russia and Iran and its strategic investments under the Belt and Road Initiative, the “Blue Sword” exercises signify China’s dangerous intent to play a more prominent role in regional politics.