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Russia/China: Military Exercises Underscore Growing Ties

Russia and China will hold unprecedented joint military exercises later this month in the Russian Far Eastern city of Vladivostok and in the coastal Chinese province of Shandong and nearby waters. More than 10,000 troops will take part in the drill, dubbed "Peace Mission 2005,” which will include army, navy, air force, marine, airborne, and logistics units. As their scale suggests, these exercises underscore the growing ties between the two former Cold War antagonists.

Prague, 5 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Moscow and Beijing insist their joint exercises, scheduled for 18-25 August, are not aimed at any third country.

The Chinese Defense Ministry says they are meant to help strengthen the capability of the two armed forces in jointly striking “international terrorism, extremism, and separatism.” The Russian military adds another goal: to practice joint action to "settle regional crises."

However, Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer downplayed the practical military objectives of the joint exercises.

“Russia and China are not [military] allies. No one today, be it in Moscow or Beijing, is [telling] us that we will one day decide to fight any third party," Felgenhauer told RFE/RL. "This means that, unlike the maneuvers Russia conducts with Armenia, Belarus, or other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or those NATO countries conduct among themselves, the [Russian-Chinese] wargames have nearly no practical military purpose.”

Felgenhauer suggests the upcoming joint military exercise has something to do with allegations that the United States is supporting or even fomenting uprisings in the former Soviet Union. “For Russia, the aim [of these war games] is mainly political," he said. "They are designed to show the United States that [Russia has] allies. After the revolutionary events that took place in Georgia and Ukraine, many people think it is important [to convey this message].”

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 ended decades of hostility between the two neighbors. They have since developed what they call a strategic partnership to oppose what they regard as U.S. domination in global affairs.
"Russia has exhausted its opportunities for selling jets and ships. There is another choice: to sell nonconventional weapons. And it’s not [a coincidence] that strategic bombers are participating [in] these military exercises." - military analyst

Over the past decade, massive Russian arms sales to China have further favored the development bilateral cooperation. According to estimates of the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, Russia has been delivering an average of $2 billion worth of arms to China since 2000, including fighter aircraft, submarines, and destroyers.

Felgenhauer said this month’s military exercises will serve Chinese efforts to develop the best possible relations with the Russian military in order to buy very sensitive military equipments and technologies that Moscow has been refusing to sell so far.

Felgenhauer aded that Beijing is particularly interested in buying Russian-made long-range bombers. He notes that some Russian Tu-22 M3 "Backfires" and Tu-95 C's will take part in the upcoming exercise.

Russian military expert Aleksandr Goltz agrees that the presence of strategic bombers in the drill is not coincidental. “China is the biggest consumer of Russian armament in the world," he told RFE/RL. "But now Russia has exhausted its opportunities for selling jets and ships. There is another choice: to sell nonconventional weapons. And it’s not [a coincidence] that strategic bombers are participating [in] these military exercises.”

Oksana Antonenko, senior fellow at the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, said the drill is an important step forward in Chinese-Russian relations. “All their border disputes at the moment are closed. [So] it was possible now to organize joint exercises. And I think in terms of confidence building this is definitely a step forward," she told RFE/RL. "They demonstrate perhaps to the world and more importantly also to both Russia and China that following the settlement of their border dispute in the Far East they are now able to cooperate together.”

In early July, Russia and China exchanged ratification documents by their parliaments agreeing to share the last disputed land on the eastern sector of the 4,300-kilometer border.

(RFE/RL correspondent Jean-Christophe Peuch and RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)

See also:

Beijing Announces Joint Military Exercises With Russia

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