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DOHA (Reuters) - Chinese warships have embarked on a tour of Gulf Arab states for the first time in six years as Beijing has signalled a desire to play a bigger role on the global stage.

Three Chinese vessels, including a guided-missile destroyer warship, arrived in Qatar's capital Doha on Saturday following a visit to the Saudi port city of Jeddah, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

China's navy regularly tours the world and its ships patrol off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia as part of international anti-piracy operations. Visits to Gulf Arab states, where both the U.S. and Britain have naval bases, are less common.

China's navy visited Iran for the first time in 2014 to take part in joint naval exercises with Saudi Arabia's regional arch-rival.

Beijing relies on the Middle East for oil but has tended to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Britain, France and Russia.

However, China has been trying to get more involved, especially in Syria peace efforts, and has taken tentative steps over the Yemen crisis too.

A senior Chinese diplomat said on Monday that Beijing could be forced to assume a role of world leadership if others step back from that position after U.S. President Donald Trump pledged in his first speech to put "America first".

(Reporting by Tom Finn; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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