In a recent announcement, the Saudi Arabian government revealed the beginning of a three-week joint naval exercise with China, aptly named “Blue Sword.”
China and Saudi Arabia have launched Blue Sword 2023 – a series of joint naval exercises designed to prepare for "maritime terrorism" involving over 100 military personnel – in Guangdong province.
Troops will be trained to rescue hijacked merchant ships, search for and dispose… pic.twitter.com/B82u0HuZzW
— Sprinter (@Sprinter99800) October 10, 2023
This collaboration is to make the relationship between the Saudi and Chinese navies stronger. It’s the second time they’re doing the Blue Sword drill — the first one taking place in 2019 near the city of Jeddah. The 2023 edition of the Blue Sword exercise kicked off in Zhanjiang, a coastal city in southern China.
The launch event witnessed the presence of hundreds of troops from both nations, reflecting the significance of this joint endeavor.
The overarching objectives of this exercise, as outlined by China’s state-run Global Times, encompass building mutual trust and friendly relations between the two, enhancing naval combat capabilities, and bolstering joint operational proficiency of overseas armed rescue units.
The exercise’s structure spans three distinct phases: a basic training phase, professional training, and a comprehensive drill phase. These phases encompass more than 20 training subjects, such as live-fire shooting, fast roping from helicopters, cabin searches, underwater reconnaissance, sniping-on-command, and underwater explosives disarming.
The core scenario of the Blue Sword drill centers around the simulated hijacking of a commercial ship, necessitating a coordinated effort by Chinese and Saudi naval special operations forces to execute a successful rescue mission.
China has previously conducted similar joint exercises with nations like Russia and Iran, in addition to participating in anti-piracy escort missions in areas with high piracy risk, such as the Gulf of Aden and waters near Somalia.
The need for anti-piracy efforts is especially pronounced for China, given its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which involves extensive investments in regions with precarious security situations.
Some experts speculate that the timing of the exercise could work to China’s advantage, as it aligns with the nation’s efforts to forge closer ties with Saudi Arabia, including military cooperation. This comes at a time when Saudi-U.S. relations have faced strain, exacerbated by recent events such as the Ukraine War and differences in oil production policies.
China’s perceived opportunity in Saudi-U.S. relations became especially evident when it facilitated an agreement between historical rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran to mend relations and reopen diplomatic missions.
With the ongoing Hamas attacks, attempts by the United States to broker peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel have encountered challenges, potentially affecting talks of normalization between the Saudis and Israel, which were reportedly close to finalization before the outbreak of violence.