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China's defence minister visits Oman as Beijing eyes foothold in Arabian Sea

Wei Fenghe says China is Muscat's 'sole strategic partner' after holding talks with Omani officials
The port at Duqm in Oman has been a site of major Chinese investment (MEE/Sebastian Castelier)

China's minister of defence held talks with Omani officials in the sultanate's capital Muscat on Thursday, with the two sides pledging to improve their strategic partnership, as Beijing pushes to strengthen its presence in the Arabian Sea. 

Wei Fenghe arrived in Oman from Iran, meeting Oman's foreign minister Sayyid Badr bin Hamad al-Busaidi and Sultan bin Mohammed al-Nomani, the royal office minister.

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In a statement, both sides said they discussed "the development witnessed in Omani-Chinese relations in various fields and exchanges as well as views on regional and international issues of common interest".

Chinese and Omani officials also discussed ways of enhancing joint military cooperation.

Fenghe, heading a military delegation, also met Omani Deputy Prime Minister for Defence Affairs Sayyid Shihab bin Tarik Al Said and Lieutenant-General Sultan bin Mohammed al-Numani.

Fenghe said that "China is Oman's sole strategic partner".

"China and Oman have witnessed a continuous and in-depth development in their bilateral relations," he added, according to the Chinese news website Xinhua.

Muscat, an ally of the the US and the UK, has always sought a neutral foreign policy and kept ties with multiple conflicting parties in the Middle East and across the world.

Gulf oil routes

According to the London-based Al-Arab newspaper, Fenghe's visit to Muscat is part of Beijing's push to boost its presence in the coastal town of Duqm. This strategic region connects the gulfs of Oman and Aden, and the Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean.

China has invested $10.7bn in the Chinese-Omani Park in the Duqm region, 550km south of the capital Muscat, and leased lands from the Omani government to set up light and heavy industrial areas and expand an oil refinery facility.

In February, Oman officially opened Duqm Port, poised to be a hub for trade, industry and investment, capable of handling mega container ships and crude carriers.

The port has attracted interest from several regional and global players, including India, Iran, the UK and the US. 

In 2019, Washington agreed with Oman to allow the US navy to access the strategic port, which is large enough to host aircraft carriers.