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Russia-China military ties take a leap forward

By M K Bhadrakumar | India Punchline | September 11, 2016

The wrap on the long-awaited China-Russia naval exercise in the South China Sea has been lifted, finally. From what Beijing disclosed today regarding the eight-day exercise (codenamed Joint Sea-2016), beginning on September 12, it is anything but a routine exercise. Make no mistake, it marks a leap forward in Sino-Russian military ties and signals a significant show of strategic congruence.

The Chinese Navy spokesman revealed that the exercise will be held “off southern China’s Guangdong Province”, without elaborating. Both navies are deputing surface ships, submarines, fixed-wing aircraft, ship-borne helicopters marine corps and amphibious armored equipment for the exercise.

The announcement said the two navvies will “undertake defense, rescue, and anti-submarine operations, in addition to joint island seizing and other activities…(and) in particular, will carry out live-fire drills, sea crossing and island landing operations, and island defense and offense exercises among others”. (Global Times )

China’s South Sea Fleet and Russia’s Pacific Fleet will be the participants. The SSF, of course, plays a major role in the disputed waters of the South China Sea and, in fact, was instrumental in occupying the Paracel Islands in 1974.

The exercise is taking place against an extraordinary backdrop. Only six days ago, Russia came out with a stance on the South China Sea issue, which is completely to China’s satisfaction. It was hugely symbolic that President Vladimir Putin personally articulated it – and from Chinese soil, as he was leaving for home after the G20 summit in Hangzhou. Putin said in reply to a query from a journalist:

  • I’ve developed a very good relationship based on trust with President Xi Jinping. I would say a friendly relationship. However, he has never – I would like to underscore this – he has never asked me to comment on this (South China Sea) issue or intervene in any way. Nothing of the kind has ever passed his lips. Nevertheless, of course, we have our own opinion on this. What is it? First of all, we do not interfere. We believe that interference by any power from outside the region will only hurt the resolution of these issues. I believe the involvement of any third-party powers from outside the region is detrimental and counterproductive. That’s my first point.
  • Second, as far as the Hague Arbitration Court and its rulings are concerned, we agree with and support China’s position to not recognise the court’s ruling. And I’ll tell you why. It is not a political but a purely legal position. It is that any arbitration proceedings should be initiated by parties to a dispute while a court of arbitration should hear the arguments and positions of the parties to the dispute. As is known, China did not go the Hague Court of Arbitration and no one there listened to its position. So, how can these rulings be deemed fair? We support China’s position on the issue. (Kremlin website)

It is a calibrated stance that does not take any side on the disputes as such and simply ignored UNCLOS, et al, but it pointedly snubs Washington’s interference. It serves Beijing’s purpose, while for Moscow it no way jeopardises Russia’s developing strategic ties with Vietnam or with the ASEAN. Beijing is pleased. The Chinese Foreign Ministry lauded Putin’s remarks. (MFA)

Moscow and Beijing kept fine-tuning the details of the exercise, presumably taking into account the fluidity in the regional security. One reason could be the US’ decision to depute the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to South Korea for a naval exercise in mid-October. The drill is projected as a show of strength to North Korea but it is being held at a time of heightened regional tensions over North Korea and the USS Reagan is part of a Japan-based American strike group and the only forward-deployed aircraft carrier in the region.

Interestingly, the visiting speaker of the upper house of Russia’s parliament Valentina Matviyenko stated in Beijing on Friday that Russia and China have identical positions on North Korea. A day later, on Saturday, Russian Foreign Ministry issued a joint appeal with China calling for avoidance of precipitate moves.

Putin’s remarks on South China Sea were by no means ex-tempore. The big question is whether Moscow and Beijing could be exploring the matrix of an alliance that is unlike a formal alliance but prepares them nonetheless to push back at a probable shift in the US’ policies in a pronounced interventionist direction and a greater readiness to use military power under the next US president. The deployment of the THAAD missile defence system in South Korea is a matter of common concern for Russia and China. Again, despite the seamless charm offensive by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Putin does not intend to make any territorial concessions to Japan over the Kuriles.

Indeed, the idea of a Sino-Russian alliance is not new. In 2014, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu explicitly aired the idea of a common front with China to fight terrorism and counter US-sponsored ‘color revolutions’. In a significant reference just before the visit to Hangzhou, Putin described Russia’s relations with China as “a comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation”. Again, at the meeting with Putin in Hangzhou on September 4, Xi explicitly called for closer, tighter strategic alignment between the two countries. (Xinhua )

September 12, 2016 - Posted by | Aletho News | , , ,

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