Back in March, when the Saudis were in the early stages of executing Operation Decisive Storm (the air campaign aimed at routing the Iran-backed rebels who had recently taken control of Yemen prompting President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to flee to Riyadh), the world began to get very nervous after the Houthis entereda military base at the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait.
Bab el-Mandeb is a key chokepoint for global crude and needless to say, just about the last thing Saudi Arabia (or the West for that matter) wanted to see was an Iranian proxy army taking control of one side of the corridor.
At the time, Aden was a veritable warzone as a loose confederation of troops still loyal to Hadi battled to keep the Houthis from overrunning the historic port city. Just as hostilities reached a crescendo, unidentified troops showed up, disembarked, and rescued dozens of foreign nationals trapped in the escalating violence. As it turns out, those troops were Chinese.
At the time, the rescue mission took virtually everyone off guard. China had inexplicably sailed a warship into the middle of a Mid-East proxy war, calmly strolled ashore, picked up some folks and left.
While the bold display of naval power came as a surprise in April, it’s now easy to put the maneuver in context. Since then, we’ve seen Beijing project its maritime capabilities on a number of occasions. The PLA’s man-made islands in The South China Sea are the most notable example, but…