For the first time ever, ships from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLAN) docked at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Beijing’s sent two ships to Iran — a frigate and a missile destroyer — to participate in four days of joint naval exercises with the Iranian navy. The Changchun, a Type 052C Luyang II Chinese guided-missile destroyer and the Changzhou, a Type 054A Jiangkai II frigate, are in Iran for a “friendly visit.” The Changchun and Changzhou are PLAN ships that patrol the Gulf of Aden, securing shipping lanes in the piracy-prone region. The Iranian media marked China’s stop at the Iranian port as a reciprocal visit following an Iranian flotilla’s trip to the Chinese port of Zhangjiagang last year.
On Monday, Iranian naval commander Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari announced the start of planned naval exercises and wargames between the Chinese and Iranian navies. The exercise, codenamed “Velayat 3,” will take place in Iranian territorial waters and international waters off the southern coast of Iran. “The voyage of the Chinese Army’s fleet of warships for the first time in Persian Gulf waters is aimed at joint preparation of Iran and China for establishing peace, stability, tranquility, and multilateral and mutual cooperation,” notes Adm. Amir Hossein Azad, commander of Iran’s First Naval Zone.
“The presence of a Chinese navy flotilla in Iran’s southern port of Bandar Abbas is indicative of solidarity between the two nations and armies,” noted Governor General Jassem Jadari of Iran’s Hormuzgan province. He added that China’s interest in developing a closer naval relationship with Iran was motivated by the country’s strategic location and access to the Strait of Hormuz. According to Iranian sources, the exercises will focus primarily on anti-piracy and rescue operations. A report in Iran’s state-run Fars News highlighted an incident that took place in July this where the Iranian navy thwarted a pirate attack against a Chinese container ship.
PLAN fleet commander Rear Adm. Huang Xinjian stated that the visit and exercises were intended to “deepen mutual understanding, and to enhance exchanges between our two countries’ navies.” He added that he thought the visit would “encourage the constant advancement of friendly cooperation between our two countries’ navies.”
The exercises signal the Chinese navy’s intention to expand its ability to operate in far-flung waters. The PLAN has historically been a non-expeditionary force, focusing on patrolling China’s near waters. With China’s rise and increasing global profile, the Chinese navy is expanding its area of operation. The visit also marks a continued rapprochement between China and Iran.