Has China just sent warships to the Middle East?
We’ve seen many videos and social media posts claiming that China has deployed 6 warships towards the Middle East in the midst of the Israel-Hamas conflict.Some posts claim that this is in response to the United States sending military forces of their own, while others say they are there to protest the bombing of the Gaza Strip. Many posts and responses further suggest that this action will lead to a larger international conflict or proxy war between major world powers.
However, according to a recent statement by the Chinese military, the ships are part of an established taskforce (the “44th Chinese Naval Escort Taskforce) who have been visiting several countries in the Persian Gulf as part of planned goodwill visits – most recently in Kuwait. Looking back at previous reports and articles, our research suggests that this is true.The taskforce arrived at the Gulf of Aden 6 months ago in May and has been escorting ships through the Gulf and conducting military exercises in collaboration with different countries. This has been the case since before the Israel-Hamas conflict ignited on October 7th.Shortly prior to the conflict, the taskforce concluded their deployment in the Gulf of Arden (marked on the map above) and embarked on the planned goodwill visits. The article below was published hours before the conflict began on 7th October by the Chinese military, reporting that the was mission handed over on 2nd October.Posts suggesting that China has deployed warships in reaction to or as a result of the recent conflict are, therefore, inaccurate.
Instead, the ships have been in the region for 6 months and are carrying out pre-planned activities in the region. Further, claims which suggest that the warships are heading towards Israel or Gaza specifically are also misleading as the ships are currently in the Persian Gulf rather than near the Mediterranean Sea, which is where the Gaza Strip is located.
We therefore give this claim a rating of False.
As part of its Belt and Road initiative launched in 2013, China has been engaging with the Middle East through a range of activities and partnerships. Articles which predate October this year reflect this existing naval presence and collaboration in the region. Claims which leverage the casual reader’s lack of knowledge in this area to suggest that China’s naval actions are sudden or new are possibly done to cause confusion or other heightened emotions in light of the ongoing conflict.
Despite a number of posts making this claim on X being given community notes with corrections, this claim has continued to spread over the past few days, with videos of Chinese warships in action and continual links to the American military presence in the region. Being alert to potential mis/disinformation such as this is particularly important as it informs and conditions our responses to and understanding of the wider conflict.