China, Russia ramp up military ties with latest drills

By Caravanserai and AFP

Chinese warships steam in formation to conduct alongside replenishment at sea during a training exercise. [Chinese Ministry of Defence]

Chinese warships steam in formation to conduct alongside replenishment at sea during a training exercise. [Chinese Ministry of Defence]

Ties between Moscow and Beijing are continuing to grow closer since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, a move China has not condemned.

The two have ramped up defence contacts, including joint military drills, in recent months.

Chinese naval vessels set sail this weekend to participate in joint manoeuvres with the Russian military, Chinese defence authorities said Sunday (July 16).

Provocative drills

The latest air-and-sea exercises will take place in the Sea of Japan and are aimed at "safeguarding strategic maritime routes", the Chinese Ministry of Defence had said Saturday.

The drill will antagonise Japan, a democracy that has territorial disputes with both Russia and China, as Bloomberg reported Sunday.

The Chinese military has sent five warships, including a guided-missile destroyer, it added in the statement published Sunday, without specifying when the drills will take place.

China and Russia carried out a joint air patrol over the Japan and East China seas last month, and the flights prompted South Korea to deploy fighter jets as a precaution.

It was the sixth such China-Russia patrol in the area since 2019.

Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu this month advocated boosting naval co-operation with Russia.

China and Russia conducted six joint military exercises last year, the most in two decades, Bloomberg reported Sunday.

Five of them occurred after Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine in February 2022.

However, "Putin's war in Ukraine has exposed the limitations of Moscow as a potential military partner," Bloomberg reported, referring to the high casualties and multiple defeats that the Russian military has endured.

Hardly a 'neutral party'

Beijing has emerged as Moscow's most important ally since the Ukraine war began.

China says it is a neutral party in the conflict, but its refusal to condemn the invasion has led to accusations from Ukraine's allies that it is favouring Russia.

China's top diplomat said July 13 that Beijing would strengthen ties with Russia in strategic communication and co-ordination.

Wang Yi discussed various issues with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Jakarta, where both took part in an 18-nation East Asia Summit ministerial meeting Friday.

"The two sides should... strengthen strategic communication and co-ordination," Wang was quoted as saying by the Chinese Foreign Ministry in a statement.

"China and Russia firmly support each other in safeguarding legitimate interests, adhere to the path of harmonious coexistence and win-win development."

Wang was representing Beijing in the Indonesian capital because Foreign Minister Qin Gang was ill.

Lavrov said Moscow and Beijing were maintaining "high-level exchanges" and a March meeting between Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Russia had "injected strong momentum into bilateral relations", the Chinese ministry's readout said.

"We have more and more areas where interests and plans converge, so I am looking to [their] further development with optimism," Lavrov said, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement.

Both sides "exchanged views on strengthening coordination and cooperation under multilateral frameworks such as the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation", Wang said, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.

Growing co-operation

China and Russia have ramped up economic co-operation and diplomatic contacts in recent years.

China's two-way trade with Russia rose in June to its highest level since the Ukraine war started, Voice of America reported last Thursday.

Chinese customs data showed July 13 that bilateral trade value surged to $20.83 billion in June, the highest since February 2022.

Those ties are vital to keeping Russia's war going. Its lucrative energy customers in Europe cut it off after it invaded Ukraine.

Putin and Xi conferred in Beijing ahead of the war, vowing to stick together in a "new era" of global political and military order.

"Friendship between the two states has no limits," they said in a joint statement released after the meeting. "There are no 'forbidden' areas of co-operation."

The Chinese regime reportedly learned in advance of the Russian plan to attack Ukraine but cared only about not having it happen during the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Putin and Xi also announced after their meeting in March a "comprehensive strategic partnership" that included everything from co-operation on "de-dollarisation" to pursuing parallel policies in Iran, Syria and Africa.

Xi has for his part emphasised that China's strategy vis-a-vis Russia “will not be changed by any turn of events … no matter how the international landscape may change.”

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