China has announced that it plans to hold joint naval exercises with Russia, and although both nations frequently co-operate militarily, some analysts believe that these drills could have deeper implications. The Chinese government has said that these drills are aimed at strengthening military cooperation between the two countries.
In what many believe is a response to recent Western foreign policy maneuvers that have angered both Moscow and Beijing, these recent exercises will be held in disputed waters of the East China Sea between Japan and China. Near Shanghai, these waters are adjacent to a set of uninhabited yet disputed islands. Both Japan and China claim that the Diaoyu (as they are called in China) or Senkakus Islands (as they are called in Japan) are rightfully their own.
Recently in a trip to Asia, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to Japan’s interests in the dispute. This move has been rebuked by China as inflammatory. As it stands now, the Islands are under Japanese jurisdiction.
On top of this, China surprised its Asian neighbors and the West by redrawing its air defense identification zone last year. Now, this zone covers the disputed islands which has Japan, South Korea, and the United States worried. On top of that, China has been rapidly increasing its military spending while also sending more and more patrols into the region.
Now, with China and Russia planning to hold joint naval exercises later this year, there are renewed concerns that the strengthening of their military cooperation may be for the purpose of standing in solidarity against some the West’s current foreign policies. And with the current standoff between the West and East over a range of issues, there is ample room to worry about a continual cooling of relations.
As it stands now, the most pressing issue is the current Ukraine Crisis. Russia has found itself on the receiving end of economic sanctions, diplomatic pressures, and an expanding NATO force on its doorstep in response to its handling of the crisis. Although Russia denies involvement, the West claims that Moscow is behind the unrest in the region.
For its part, China has remained tepid in commenting on Ukraine. However, the announcement to hold these new drills may perhaps be seen as a way to affirm Russia that China will remain in solidarity with its ally. Accordingly, China has not explicitly supported or denied these speculative claims, only saying that these drills are normal for the two nations and that they are meant to serve as a pragmatic way for their navies to “improve their capability.”
That being said, there can be no denying that these joint naval exercises between China and Russia hold more than just practical military applications in mind. It is likely that these drills are planned to explicitly send a message to the West that both nations stand aligned against some of the foreign policy measures that have been exercised lately. Although it is not unusual for the two nations which have strong economic, political, and military ties to perform such drills, many argue that the timing of them is particularly pointed.
By Brett Byers-Lane
Follow Brett on Twitter