As I noted back in June, a series of military exercises between Russia and China this year have been in the spotlight, illustrating the intensified cooperation in the security realm between these two states in spite of lingering challenges in their broader ties (See: “Military Drills Put Russia-China Ties in the Spotlight”).
The series of drills for this year kicked off in June, and were set to be followed up by drills in the Baltic Sea in late July and the Sea of Japan and Okhotsk in mid-September.
The drills in the Baltic Sea, in particular, had been closely watched by European states, since it would constitute a first for China and Russia. Though Beijing and Moscow have insisted that this is just the latest in a series of military exercises, these countries continue to be spooked by Russian military assertiveness, particularly following the 2014 annexation of Crimea, as well as the prospect of the area turning into an area for the exercise of Sino-Russian military might.
Over the weekend, Russian and Chinese vessels began their first joint drill in the Baltic Sea as scheduled. The drills, held under the banner of Joint Sea 2017, will last until July 28.
Ahead of the drills, Tian Zhong, deputy commander of the Chinese Navy and the director of the joint drill, had said that a variety of joint drills would be held by the two navies – including those related to air defense, maritime search and rescue, and underway replenishment. The two navies would then attend the parade on Russia’s Navy Day in St. Petersburg to cap a series of engagement that would deepen cooperation between the two militaries and strengthen the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership.
According to official accounts from both sides, the Chinese fleet consisted of one destroyer, one frigate, one supply ship, ship-borne helicopters and marines, while the Russian fleet included one frigate, fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and marines.
In a simulation exercise on Sunday, Xinhua reported that two tactical assault groups, consisting of mixed warships from Chinese and Russian fleets, simulated details of the drills on a map, including ship-to-sea firing by secondary cannons, air defense, joint landing and inspection, maritime search and rescue, and underway replenishment.
Predictably, Xinhua said that contrary to the nefariousness associated with the exercises, the drills were aimed at “carry[ing] out joint rescue missions and ensur[ing] maritime economic activities.” Wang Xiaoyang, the deputy captain of a destroyer detachment of the Chinese Navy, was quoted as saying that the simulation exercise was conducted to increase familiarization and enhance coordination between the commanders of both countries.