Russia and China will hold at least two naval exercises in 2015, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The exercises will take place in the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. “We plan to conduct a regular joint naval exercise in the Mediterranean next spring,” said Shoigu according to ITAR-TASS, adding that “another joint naval drill is planned in the Pacific.” Shoigu’s comments came after a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, General Chang Wanquan in Beijing. He additionally noted that Russia and China are looking to form a regional collective security system in the Asia-Pacific region. The minister added that both Russia and China are growing increasingly concerned by the United States’ bid to strengthen its presence in the Asia-Pacific.
“During talks with Comrade Chang Wanquan, we discussed the state and prospects of the Russian-Chinese relations in the military field, exchanged opinions on the military-political situation in general and the APR [Asia-Pacific region] in particular,” Shoigu said. “We also expressed concern over U.S. attempts to strengthen its military and political clout in the APR,” he continued. “We believe that the main goal of pooling our effort is to shape a collective regional security system.”
The comments from the defense minister were remarkably frank and highlight the increasing importance of Russia-China relations in Asian security affairs. As I noted two weeks ago and as other analysts have also argued, the current iteration of the partnership between Russia and China is likely turning into a permanent geostrategic fixture in the Asia-Pacific. The two countries have cooperated on defense issues for a while now, both bilaterally and within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Shoigu, who traveled to Beijing after a brief stop in Pakistan, highlighted that Russia’s relationship with China is a priority: “Amid a highly volatile world situation, it becomes particularly important to strengthen reliable good-neighborly relations between our countries,” Shoigu remarked after his talks with General Chang. “This is not only an important factor for security of states but also a contribution to peace and stability on the Eurasian continent and beyond … regular private meetings between the leaders of Russia and China give a powerful impetus to development of bilateral partnership,” he added.
The decision to conduct exercises in the Mediterranean squares well with Beijing’s own maritime ambitions. As part of its naval modernization efforts, China is looking to evolve the role of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) into more of an expeditionary force that is capable of operating both on China’s coast and halfway across the world. In recent months, China has held exercises in distant waters, including with Iran in the Arabian Sea.