Military drills underscore China-Russia cooperation

By Cui Heng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/20 19:43:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Russian Defense Ministry announced on July 15 that China's  People's Liberation Army Navy fleet will arrive at the Russian Baltic Sea port Baltiysk at the end of July to conduct the Maritime Interaction-2017 Russia-China joint naval military exercises. The exercises are divided into two stages, and the first will be conducted in the Baltic Sea in late July. On the way to the Baltic Sea, China's fleet will also conduct live fire exercises in the Mediterranean. The second stage of the exercises will be held in the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk.

Since their beginning in 2012, the Maritime Interaction joint naval exercises have been a fixed mechanism of China-Russia military cooperation and an important part of comprehensive cooperation between the two countries.

After Russia was confronted with strategic pressure by Western countries in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, China and Russia gave support to each other as strategic partners with ever closer military cooperation.

The most notable development in the exercises this year is the timing and the location. They are being conducted at time when tensions between Russia and the US are further intensified, and at a location that is at the forefront of this antagonism, the Baltic Sea.

At the G20 summit in Hamburg this month, US President Donald Trump met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for the first time, but the handshake between the two politicians who share a mutual admiration didn't bring the two countries out of an adversarial state.

At the NATO-Ukraine Commission immediately following the G20, Western countries further clarified their confrontational stance toward Russia. After a series of expulsions of diplomats on both sides, the Atlantic Council issued the report Meeting the Russian Hybrid Challenge, a sign of the long-term and normalized confrontation between Russia and the US.

The China-Russia joint military exercises are a yearly routine that demonstrate to the West the determination of China-Russia strategic coordination and at the same time offer some consolation to Putin.

The Baltic Sea has turned from a strategic buffer zone to the first defense line of Russia's national security due to the eastward expansion of NATO and the EU after the end of the Cold War.

Any action by Russia in the Baltic Sea will be of high concern to Western countries, let alone the unease brought by China-Russia joint military exercises. Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz accused Russia and China of creating a strategic alliance that "threatens the free world."

China should not back down from its current stance in the face of criticism from NATO countries. This criticism is inevitable in the growth of a great power. After all, the purpose of the China-Russia joint naval exercise is not just to support Russia.

China's naval force has developed from offshore to blue-water, and established its first overseas support base along the Gulf of Aden this year. China is enhancing its presence in oceans around the world. An appropriate entry into the NATO countries' "backyard" like the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea will reflect China's confidence and strength.

After the joint military exercises carried out in the Baltic Sea, China and Russia will hold the second stage of the exercises in the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk adjacent to the Far East. Due to the US deployment of the THAAD system and the escalation of the North Korean nuclear crisis, the great powers have placed more concern in Northeast Asia than other regions. The region has entered a period of rearming. The US once sent two aircraft carriers to the waters near North Korea. Russia has deployed long-distance radar and anti-missile system quietly in the Far East. Japan and South Korea have increased their military budgets.

Within the current Northeast Asian security framework, either China or Russia alone can't act as a counterbalance to the fan-shaped security structure with the US at its core, bolstered by many alliances formed after WWII. The point of China-Russia joint military exercises lies in their desire to demonstrate the determination of their joint efforts to maintain regional balance and strategic stability.

In 2016, China and Russia vowed to strengthen global strategic stability in a joint statement signed by heads of the two countries, which means the mutual support of China and Russia will not be limited to strategic defense. The two countries will jointly maintain the balance of power and the stability of the strategic environment. Under this framework, the deepening military cooperation between China and Russia is justified and will not be shaken by the opposition of Western countries.

The author is a PhD candidate at the Center for Russian Studies, East China Normal University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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