China 'Welcomes' Russia's Call for Persian Gulf Coalition as U.S. and Iran Back Rival Plans

China has reacted positively to Russia's call for a regional coalition to ensure security in the Persian Gulf as the United States and Iran have pursued their own rival agendas there.

Moscow first introduced "the concept of providing collective security in the Persian Gulf area" in July as tensions between Washington and Tehran neared an all-out crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin officially proposed Thursday that "a security and cooperation organization be created in the region almost from scratch." He suggested that "Russia, China, the U.S., the EU, India and other interested countries could join as observers."

Asked about this idea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang declined to "offer a principled response before checking for more information" at a press conference Tuesday, but said Beijing was open to such considerations.

"China has been closely following the complex and sensitive situation in the Gulf region," Geng added. "Safeguarding peace and stability in the region is in the shared interests of the international community. China welcomes all proposals and diplomatic efforts conducive to deescalating the situation in the Gulf region. We would also like to stay in communication with all relevant parties."

russia putin iran rouhani shaking hands
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Yerevan, Armenia, October 1. The two leaders have shored up economic and military cooperation as they navigate tensions with the U.S. ALEXEI DRUZHININ/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S., however, has said little about Russian efforts to get involved in the rising regional tensions. State Department special representative Brian Hook said in August that he had "only seen news reports" of Moscow's plan and had not "seen it take flight," the state-run Tass Russian News Agency reported.

"We believe that our proposal is the most executable and also the one with the best odds of success in terms of restoring deterrence and protecting freedom of navigation. Look, we welcome a number of ideas to restore deterrence. There are many ways to do that. We have put forward what we know is a very good proposal," he added, noting that the U.S. military had stepped up its "force posture" in the region.

The Pentagon has increased its presence near the Strait of Hormuz in response to what the White House claimed were increased Iranian threats to U.S. interests in the region. Washington went on to accuse Tehran of targeting and harassing foreign oil tankers, leading President Donald Trump's administration to establish what it called the International Maritime Security Construct, a group so far joined by Australia, Bahrain, the United Kingdom and, most recently, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The latter two declared this participation last month after two Saudi oil facilities were targeted in strikes claimed by Yemen's Zaidi Shiite Muslim movement known as Ansar Allah or the Houthis but increasingly blamed on Iran by Washington, Riyadh and others. Iran has denied any role in the operation and has instead called for the formation of what was termed the "Coalition for HOPE," or Hormuz Peace Endeavor, designed to bolster cooperation among regional countries.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani formally introduced the idea at last month's United Nations General Assembly, offered invites to Saudi Arabia and other neighboring states willing to pledge "non-aggression" and "non-interference in the domestic affairs of one another." Days earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested to a small meeting of journalists attended by Newsweek that Russia and China could play a role as well, but emphasized the need for coordination among nations in the immediate area.

us troops middle east map
A graphic shows the number of estimated U.S. troops across the Middle East as of September 2019, according to Axios. The Pentagon maintains a sizable growing presence near Iran's borders.

Source: Statista

The U.S. has so far dismissed Iran's attempts to rebuild embattled ties with the Sunni Muslim monarchies across the strategic waters of the Persian Gulf, however, as Washington attempted to sever the Islamic Republic's international relations through a self-styled "maximum pressure" campaign. The U.S. has laid out strict sanctions since Trump defied Russia and China, along with the European Union, France, Germany and the U.K., in leaving a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year.

These countries have continued to support that agreement, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for significantly restraining its nuclear activities. Since Trump's exit, however, Europe, in particular, has failed to live up to its commitments as it feared U.S. restrictions and backed charges that Tehran was behind the recent attack in Saudi Arabia, while Moscow and Beijing have largely blamed the U.S. for regional unrest as it refused to lift sanctions in order to launch negotiations with Iran.

Iran has also sought closer military ties with Russia and China, having announced joint naval drills that have yet to be confirmed by either of the two major powers, who themselves have significantly boosted bilateral ties in recent years. Iranian navy commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, who signed a memorandum of cooperation with Russia in July, arrived in Moscow once again Tuesday to sign a military agreement alongside fellow Caspian states Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and discuss news of the upcoming exercise.

"When two or more countries hold military exercises, it means that a great deal of agreement and cooperation has been established between them," Khanzadi said, mentioning the planned participation of Russia, but not China, in the upcoming maneuvers. "The coordination and agreement involved in conducting the exercise has already been carried out and it is hoped to be completed by the end of the year in the Indian Ocean region."