‘Northern/Interaction-2023’ to kick off soon; joint military exercises between China, Russia in Sea of Japan has clear purpose and actual combat significance
Published: Jul 15, 2023 05:10 PM


Chinese Ministry of National Defense announced Saturday that Russia will dispatch naval and air forces to participate in "Northern/Interaction-2023" drills in the central region of the Sea of Japan organized by the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Northern Theater Command. The event marks Russia's second time participating in the PLA annual strategic drills, and also a first that Russia has dispatched both naval and air forces to participate in similar events, according to Chinese military observers.

Chinese miliary experts believed that such military drills would be carried out with strong and clear purpose of safeguarding the national interests of both sides in key passages of the Sea of Japan waters.

According to a statement released by the Chinese Ministry of National Defense on Saturday, the drills are themed "safeguarding the safety of strategic maritime routes" and are designed to further elevate the coordination capability of the two militaries and strengthen their capabilities of jointly safeguarding regional peace and stability, as well as responding to various security challenges.

On Saturday morning, a Chinese naval flotilla of five warships and four ship-borne helicopters slated to join in the "Northern/Interaction-2023" military drills left military port in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province, heading to the designated waters to carry out training missions, the Global Times has reported in an exclusive report earlier on Saturday.

The Chinese naval flotilla is composed of the guided-missile destroyers Qiqihar, Guiyang, the guided-missile frigates Zaozhuang, Rizhao, and the comprehensive supply ship Taihu carrying four ship-borne helicopters. All five ships have undertaken numerous significant missions.

Chinese Military expert Song Zhongping told the Global Times on Saturday that these vessels are all main combat equipment and have participated in various exercises, including independent and joint exercises in the high seas. They have already formed combat and support capabilities. "Such line-up represents the strong combat capability of the PLA Navy, with outstanding ability to conduct operations on the high seas."

It is worth noting that the "Northern/Interaction-2023" drills are organized by the PLA Northern Theater Command, while PLA forces participating in the previous "Western/Interaction-2021" exercise were mainly composed of forces from the Western Theater Command.

Chinese military experts believe that in the future, there may be a rotation among the all five PLA theater commands to organize annual strategic exercises with different themes to further boost the PLA combat capabilities.

In August 2021, Russia participated in the "Western/Interaction-2021" exercise held at Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which marked the first time that China invited foreign forces to participate in its annual strategic exercises in its territory.

Since 2018, China has successively dispatched troops to participate in Russia's major strategic exercises including "Vostok 2018," " Tsentr-2019," and " Kavkaz-2020."

In 2022, for the first time, the PLA simultaneously dispatched its army, navy, and air forces to Russia to participate in the "Vostok 2022" exercises. The land operations of " Vostok 2022" were held at 13 training sites in Russia, while the naval forces drilled in the relevant areas of the Sea of Japan.

Li Shuyin, a researcher at the Academy of Military Sciences and an expert on Russian military issues, said that the China-Russia joint exercises, as a normalized and institutionalized military cooperation arrangement, serve as a substantive manifestation of the China-Russia strategic partnership of coordination in the military field. They have become public security goods provided by the two responsible major powers in the region.

"The joint exercises between China and Russia demonstrate the deepening political and military mutual trust between the two countries and their determination and will to combat international terrorism and maintain regional security and stability. The relative stability of the regional situation in recent years is closely related to the public security goods provided by China and Russia," she said.



Why Sea of Japan?

Unlike the "Western/Interaction-2021" held at an army tactical training base, this year's "Northern/Interaction-2023" exercises organized by the Northern Theater Command are set to take place in the central region of the Sea of Japan.

This has been attributed to the area belonging to international waters where countries can conduct military training and drills in accordance with international laws, Song noted.

"Also, the Sea of Japan is an important strategic passage for both China and Russia. The three straits in the Sea of Japan, namely the Soya Strait, the Tsushima Strait, and the Tsugaru Strait, are all related to the national strategic security of China and Russia. Especially if hostile forces want to create trouble in this area, it would pose a significant security threat to China and Russia."

Therefore, holding the exercises in the Sea of Japan can better demonstrate the exercise theme and has strong purposes and have actual combat conditions, Song pointed out.

Song also stated that via the exercises, China and Russia will further enhance cooperation in the traditional security field. The exercises will include subjects such as air defense, anti-missile, anti-ship, and anti-submarine scenarios. At the same time, the exercises will also involve non-traditional security areas, such as counter-terrorism, anti-piracy, and humanitarian rescue.

Since it is joint exercises between China and Russia, the exercise design should include scenarios where one side's vessel is damaged and the other side participates in rescue efforts, highlighting the high level of integration and cooperation between the two countries and their militaries, he added.

Song believes that such exercises can further enhance the actual combat capability of China and Russia to maintain the security of maritime strategic passage, in order to ensure the national security of both countries in unstable situations and even in the event of conflict.

Joint naval and air patrol afterwards?

After the " Vostok 2022" exercise, Russia and China conducted their second joint naval patrol in the Pacific Ocean, covering a total distance of over 7,000 nautical miles, passing through the Sea of Japan and the Bering Sea.

In June 2023, China and Russia organized their 6th joint air strategic patrol over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea, and divided such patrol into two stages for the first time.

Given the above facts, it is evident that joint strategic air, and naval patrol by both China and Russia have become regular. Regarding whether China and Russia will conduct a third joint naval patrol after the " Northern/Interaction-2023" exercise, Song said that the possibility is high and does not rule out the possibility of the happening of a first joint naval and air strategic patrol between China and Russia, marking "a new breakthrough."

Military expert said that such joint air and naval strategic patrol will be organized sooner or later, which will not only strengthen China-Russia cooperation but also enhance their actual combat capabilities, making the drills more purposeful and reflective of actual combat situations.