China, Russia Hold Joint Military Drills

Chinese and Russian naval forces have gathered for joint military exercises. Reports from Xinhua have claimed that the exercises combine a fleet of warships, submarines, and aircraft:

The joint drills, taking place in the Yellow Sea between April 22 and 27, brought in 25 naval vessels, 13 aircrafts, 9 helicopters, and 2 special fighting groups, making it a large-scale joint drill compared with recent years.

Four Russian warships from the Pacific fleet, including the aircraft carrier Varyag are also participating in the drills. Missile destroyers, missile frigates, missile boats, a support vessel and a hospital ship gathered from China’s side for the drills.

The joint exercises include defense of air routes and maritime traffic routes, search and rescue operations and anti-submarine tactics. They also include joint rescues of hijacked vessels, as well as live fire practice on targets in the air, sea and underwater.

As tensions rise in the South China Sea, some analysts are saying that these military drills are exacerbating tensions in the region. Recent incidents involving the arrest of Vietnamese fishermen and joint military exercises held by the US and the Philippines are also sources of tension in the region. The Voice of America reports:

As relations worsen between China and its South China Sea neighbors, some analysts say Beijing governmental agencies with little experience in foreign affairs are jockeying for influence, presenting inconsistent policies across the disputed region. Stephanie Kleine Ahlbrandt, the China and Northeast Asia Policy Director for the ICG in Beijing, says the growing U.S. military presence in the area is also upsetting the balance of power among the neighboring countries.
“This raises the stakes in the entire region,” says Ahlbrandt. “It’s beyond the South China Seas, in places like Myanmar, in places like India, and this profoundly disturbs China because China feels like [the region belongs to it], and they’ve responded by engaging in more military build up, which is sort of a circle whereby these countries feel more afraid and then they ask the U.S. to come in.”
“We have two centers: China as an economic center, the United States and her allies as a security center,” says Huang Jing, director of the Center on Asia and Globalisation at the National University of Singapore.”As a result, all the countries are caught in this dilemma. Economically they have no choice but to go with China because China has become the largest trade partner to every country in this region — even Japan and South Korea who are American allies. On the other hand, they know that the United States still holds supreme power in terms of military capability.”

The Global Times has claimed that the speculation over the purpose of the  joint military drills is a ‘pointless question’:

The Western Pacific has become a place for war games between the US and its allies, through which Washington is cementing partnership with Asia Pacific countries and increasing its military presence in the region.

It remains to be seen how far the joint China-Russia navy drill can go and what form, if any, of long-term maritime cooperation it will lead to. But it is more than a military exercise. It is also a drill for the two to extend geopolitical influence.

Globally, the joint drill means more to the participating countries than any messages the drill might send to other parties. In this sense, the Yellow Sea drill might help clarify the Sino-Russia Strategic and Cooperative Partnership, often perceived as a vague relationship.

Apart from joint drills, they have the rights to hold war games with other countries. A maritime military exercise is not a privilege reserved only to the US and its allies.

While China’s tensions rise with the international community over the South China Sea, China’s relations with Russia, however, seem to be improving due to the joint exercises. The Associated press reports:

Retired major general Yin Zhuo said it shows a high degree of trust between the sides.

The two militaries hold frequent exchanges, despite recent disputes over Chinese copying of Russian military technology such as Sukhoi jet fighters. China was a key customer for the former Soviet arms industry, but recent technological advances at home have made it far less dependent on Russian weaponry.

Formerly Cold War rivals for leadership of the communist world, China and Russia have since found common ground in countering liberal democratizing trends across Asia and Eastern Europe and frequently vote against Western initiatives in the United Nations Security Council.

Most recently, they have united to block any U.N. actions on Syrian violence that could lead to some form of humanitarian intervention, a prospect both nations abhor.