General Li Zuocheng of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is in Russia this week on a visit to coincide with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) Peace Mission 2018 counterterrorism exercise.
The visit was confirmed by Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, last week. Li is a member of China’s powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) and chief of the Joint Staff Department of the CMC.
Li’s visit to China comes at the invitation of General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces and the first Deputy Defense Minister of Russia.
The SCO’s Peace Mission 2018 drills are taking place at the Chebarkul training grounds in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region, according to TASS. The exercise will coincide with the fifth-ever meeting of the joint chiefs of staff of the militaries of SCO member states.
Formed in 2001 as a successor to the Shanghai Five group, the SCO has eight full member states: China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan. The SCO member states have a range of mechanisms to cooperate on counterterrorism in Eurasia.
“The troops that take part in the exercises have completed redeployment and force concentration at the Chebarkul training ground, set up a camp site, serviced weaponry and military hardware and conducted several joint command-and-control trainings, including with live firing and the use of aviation and artillery,” the press service of Russia’s Central Military District said.
This year’s exercise will be the first SCO counterterrorism drill to include troops from India and Pakistan, both of whom became full members of the SCO in June 2017.
Li’s visit to Russia also comes ahead of Moscow’s largest post-Cold War military exercise, which will also include troops from the PLA and the Mongolian military. 3,200 PLA troops will participate in the war games, known as Vostok. The Vostok exercise will begin on September 11 in eastern Russia.
“This will be something of a repeat of Zapad-81, but in some senses even bigger,” Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, said, referencing the large 1981 military exercises conducted by the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe.
According to Shoigu, Vostok 2018 will incorporate “more than 1,000 aircraft, almost 300,000 troops and almost all the ranges of the Central and Eastern military districts.”
“Imagine 36,000 pieces of military equipment moving together at the same time — tanks, armoured personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles. And all of this, of course, in conditions as close to combat as possible,” Shoigu added.