China ‘might escort ships’ in Gulf under US proposal

Donald Trump has said China, Japan and other countries “should be protecting their own ships” in the Gulf region. (AFP)
Updated 06 August 2019

China ‘might escort ships’ in Gulf under US proposal

  • Donald Trump says China, Japan and other countries “should be protecting their own ships” in the Gulf region
  • The UAE and China last month signed a military and defense cooperation agreement

DUBAI: China might escort Chinese commercial vessels in Gulf waters under a US proposal for a maritime coalition to secure oil shipping lanes following attacks on tankers, its envoy to the United Arab Emirates said on Tuesday.
“If there happens to be a very unsafe situation we will consider having our navy escort our commercial vessels,” Ambassador Ni Jian told Reuters in Abu Dhabi.
“We are studying the US proposal on Gulf escort arrangements,” China’s embassy later said in a text message.
Washington is lobbying other nations to join a maritime security coalition at a time of heightened tensions with Iran, which the United States has blamed for explosive blasts on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, a charge Tehran denies.
President Donald Trump said in a June 24 tweet that China, Japan and other countries “should be protecting their own ships” in the Gulf region, where the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain.
It was not clear if Washington had made an official request to Beijing, which has had to tread softly in the Middle East due to its close energy ties with both Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The United States has struggled to gain support for the coalition from European and Asian allies, who fear it would further stoke tensions with Iran.
So far only Britain has officially said it would join the mission to protect merchant ships after Iran seized a British-flagged vessel.
Tension has mounted since Trump last year quit a 2015 nuclear pact under which Iran agreed to curtail its atomic program in return for relief from economic sanctions crippling its economy.
France, Britain and Germany, which with Russia and China are party to the agreement, have tried to rescue the deal and reduce tensions.
China has traditionally played a small role in Middle East conflicts or diplomacy despite its reliance on regional oil, but has increased its profile under President Xi Jinping.
“We have the position that all disputes should be sorted by peaceful means and by political discussions, not ... military actions,” Ambassador Ni said.
Iran says securing the Strait, the world’s most important oil artery, should be left to Tehran and other regional countries.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia, who support US policy against regional foe Iran, have called on the international community to safeguard maritime trade and security of global oil supplies.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan met President Xi during a visit to Beijing last month during which the two sides signed a military and defense cooperation deal.
The ambassador said the agreement could lead to cooperation on tackling terrorism and intelligence sharing, adding that further discussions would take place.
China, which has a military base in Djibouti, has participated in regional escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast as part of a United Nations Security Council anti-piracy mandate.


Jordan reopens trade gateway with Syria after month-long COVID closure

Updated 27 September 2020

Jordan reopens trade gateway with Syria after month-long COVID closure

  • Authorities imposed back-to-back handling of goods
  • The closure hit trade that had already shrunk because of the impact of COVID-19

AMMAN: Jordan on Sunday resumed its land border traffic with Syria, following a more than month-long closure, after applying new rules to prevent truck drivers spreading the novel coronavirus into the kingdom, officials and businessmen said.
They said authorities imposed back-to-back handling of goods to ensure Syrian, Lebanese truck drivers and others entering the kingdom maintain a social distance from Jordanian customs officials.
Officials said in mid-August they had to close the crossing, the main gateway for goods from Lebanon and Syria to the Gulf, after dozens of infections among border officials linked to a spike in cases in neighboring Syria.
Before the decade-old conflict in Syria, the Nasib-Jaber crossing was also a transit route for hundreds of trucks a day transporting goods between Europe and Turkey and the Gulf in a multi-billion dollar annual trade.
The closure hit trade that had already shrunk because of the impact of COVID-19 and the Caesar Act — the toughest US sanctions yet that came into force in June and prohibited foreign companies trading with Damascus.
“We have had millions of dollars of losses as a result of the closure,” said Mohammad al Daoud, the president of the Jordanian Truck Owners’ Association that represents over 17,000 trucks.
The country’s other land crossings with Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian territories have been only open for commercial goods since a lockdown in March to stem the pandemic.
Syrian authorities said 70 trailers carrying, mostly fresh produce, entered Jordan on Sunday, including transit cargo heading to Gulf markets and Iraq.
While the crossing was closed, Syria’s only normally operating frontier crossing had been with Lebanon, which itself has no other functioning land borders.
Lebanon was also hit hard by the closure. It relies on the crossing for overland connections to all other countries because its only other frontier is with Israel, with which it has no ties.
“This crossing is an economic lifeline for all our land exports,” said Ibrahim al Tarshishi, the head of the Lebanese farmers’ association. (Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Barbara Lewis)