Sino-Russian maritime exercises represent shift toward multipolar realities

By George N. Tzogopoulos Source:Global Times Published: 2015-5-19 22:38:01

The first joint Sino-Russian military exercise in the Mediterranean, which kicked off on May 11, has created serious concern in the West. If there is a common view shared by the majority of Western analysts, this is that Beijing and Moscow have decided to be "provocative" by organizing naval war games in European waters.

Foreign Policy magazine, for instance, asserts that "the exercise is a throwback to Soviet maneuvers in the Mediterranean 40 years ago." For its part, The Daily Telegraph sees a growing bilateral "strategic partnership against the West."

This interpretation of the Sino-Russian military exercise reflects elements of frustration and surprise over this initiative. A few years earlier it would have hardly been expected from China and Russia to militarily cooperate in the Mediterranean. Nowadays, however, both countries seem prepared to take joint actions even in distant seas. These actions certainly stem from their right to practice in international waters and are legitimate. Every discussion about the common naval drills should not focus on legal issues.

It is obvious that Western media do not demonstrate a similar sensitivity when they deal with Washington-led naval exercises in the Yellow Sea. The military cooperation between the US and the Philippines is a characteristic example. More importantly, as opposed to the Sino-Russian naval drills in the Mediterranean, in this case a third country has seen its interests threatened. This is China, which has reacted in order to protect its sovereign rights.

Although both Beijing and Moscow publicly comment that their naval exercise is not directed against the West, this view is not shared in the later. That is because Western analysts and journalists tend to regard both China and Russia in a revisionist way.

The Ukrainian crisis fuels this sentiment. Russia, in particular, is portrayed as a country that attempts to put pressure on the West via the formation of powerful alliances. In that regard, its military collaboration with China in the Mediterranean is deemed as an attempt to show its strength at the international level. It is also combined with the impressive military parade that took place in Moscow marking 70 years after the end of WWII and the victory over Nazi Germany.

Such an approach is shortsighted because it lacks an important parameter. This is the role of China. Specifically, China is enjoying good political and economic relations with Russia, but it is not prepared to participate in joint actions that might alter the balance of power and provoke the West in the boundaries of NATO. By contrast, the country is following a moderate policy that fosters its peaceful development both domestically and internationally.

Within this context, the Sino-Russian naval drills do not necessarily mirror a growing hostility toward the West but emerging tendencies in a multipolar world. Joint military exercises in distant waters are not any longer the privilege of a single country. Additionally, states that see their own interests under threat can undertake initiatives in order to serve their own foreign policy goals.

To sum up, common military exercises should be principally considered as political and diplomatic tools in a world which is changing and where the US is losing the supremacy of the post-Cold War era.

In the final account, the use of force by the highest military spenders might not have single winners or losers as it could lead to mutual destruction. All powers involved in military spending are aware of this possibility. It's all about politics, national interests and large-scale conflict avoidance.

The author is a lecturer at the European Institute in Nice, France.

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