Joe Biden briefed on Chinese effort to put military base in Oman

US President Joe Biden has been briefed on what his advisers see as a Chinese plan to build a military facility in Oman, people familiar with the matter said, amid a broader effort by Beijing to deepen defence and diplomatic ties with the Middle East.

Biden was told that Chinese military officials discussed the matter last month with Omani counterparts, who were said to be amenable to such a deal, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations.

They said the two sides agreed to more talks in the coming weeks.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment and the White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Oman’s embassy in the US also did not respond to a request for comment.


First PLA live ammunition drill in Djibouti

First PLA live ammunition drill in Djibouti

Opening a base in Oman would complement Beijing’s other overseas military facility, which it refers to as a “logistics centre” in the East African nation of Djibouti.

But the Pentagon has been saying for years that China wants to build more overseas military logistics facilities in the region including the United Arab Emirates and other nations in Asia, including Thailand, Indonesia and Pakistan.

The precise location of the possible base or what it would house was not immediately known.

Oman is sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of the Middle East given that it follows a policy of neutrality and regularly acts as a mediator, including between the US and Iran.

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It has also sought to balance between maintaining its partnership with the US and nurturing ties with China, which imports the bulk of its crude output. China also invested in the first stage of Oman’s Duqm special economic zone, which will be the site of the Middle East’s biggest oil-storage facility.

A base in Oman would amount to a challenge to the US, whose Central Command oversees troops stationed around the region, including in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

According to the American Security Project, Oman was the first Persian Gulf country to partner militarily with the US, signing an access agreement in 1980.

Oman also sits near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the most vital shipping lanes for oil and liquefied natural gas. The strait becomes a focal point whenever tensions flare with Iran.

Warships sail in the Sea of Oman during the second day of joint Iran, Russia and China naval war games in December 2019. Photo: Iranian Army via AP

China has also stepped up its diplomatic involvement in the region, including well before the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed some 1,400 people.

In March, it helped broker a tentative detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia, after years of diplomatic deadlock between the historic rivals. China also held joint naval drills with Iran and Russia in the Gulf of Oman around the same time.

China has also pushed for a ceasefire in the days since the attack by Hamas, which is labelled a terrorist group by the US and the European Union, and Israel’s retaliatory response, which the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says has killed some 10,000 people.

Concern over China’s rising influence in the Middle East has helped spur US efforts to keep its historic allies on its side. Plans for a trade corridor between India and Europe via the Middle East, unveiled at the Group of 20 summit, are part of that broader effort to create alternatives to China.

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