China has minced no words while sending a loud and clear message to the world about the partnership that it shares with Russia.
After coming together to oppose the Biden administration’s Summit for Democracy and through various levels of cooperation, from military to space and further to trade, there could be reasons to worry about China’s growing bonhomie with Russia, especially for its adversaries.
With its latest exclamation, China has spelled it out and officially confirmed its intent to court Russia even further.
China and Russia’s military cooperation has reached a new high this year, according to China’s Ministry of Defense. The combined exercises “West / Interaction – 2021” and “Maritime Interaction – 2021” have aided this, according to the department.
— President of Russia (@KremlinRussia_E) December 15, 2021
“These events have indicated a new breakthrough in strategic cooperation between China’s and Russia’s armed forces,” the Chinese Ministry of Defense said in a statement posted on its website.
According to the department, China and Russia made loud declarations against “forces that stick to the ideology of the Cold War and are vainly striving to scare other countries” through their practical activities.
It further stated that both countries “demonstrated to the world their solid commitment and will to be friends for generations and never be foes, to aid each other and maintain peace, and to play an active role in maintaining global strategic stability,” according to the report.
This statement is indicative of the joint opposition to the Democracy Summit hosted by the United States from which both, China and Russia were deliberately excluded.
The year 2021 has also seen Russia coming to China’s defense when the latter claimed that it was being cornered by small groupings like Quad, which saw its two Head of State Summits take place this year and the formation of a military alliance between the US, the UK and Australia to arm the latter with nuclear submarines.
The US’ attempt to build partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region has largely been seen as an exercise at containment of China by Beijing.
The Russian President Vladimir Putin in one of his interactions in late November stated that the United States has better hypersonic capabilities than China but in the same breath, he derided the American attempts at trying to destabilize China by forming exclusive alliances like the AUKUS.
This was seen as a balancing act by Russia between the two but Putin has since reaffirmed its partnership with China through a trail of cooperation. In its statement, the Chinese Ministry of Defense laid special emphasis on the military exercises that became the cornerstone of the relationship between the two, namely, the ‘West Interaction 2021’ and the ‘Maritime Interaction 2021’.
China-Russia Military Drills
In August, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in China hosted the combined Russian-Chinese strategic military exercises “West / Interaction – 2021”. Around 13000 troops, 200 planes and helicopters, 200 armored vehicles, and 100 artillery systems participated in the exercise.
In terms of scope, amount of engagement by both sides, the exercise was termed unprecedented by Russia.
Airdrop Bobcat all-terrain vehicle, "The West • Cooperation • 2021" China Russia joint military drills pic.twitter.com/mM7Jh56ngk
— Eva 郑重 (@evazhengll) August 14, 2021
The theme of the exercise was ‘protecting regional security and stability’ with the objective of verifying and improving joint reconnaissance, early warning, electronic information attack, and joint attack and elimination.
What made the exercise stand out was that it took place between Russia’s Eastern Military District and China’s Western Theater Command. The latter is responsible for China’s borders with India, South and Central Asia, and ‘counterterrorism’ in Xinjiang and Tibet. These are the regions in which China has reportedly been aggressive in recent years.
During the exercise, Russian troops used PLA weaponry and equipment, with over 80% of them being modern. This is indicative of the joint operational capability that both sides aim to possess, in case they are threatened by a common enemy.
Another exercise that China considers to have been fundamental to the military cooperation between itself and Russia is the ‘Maritime Interaction 2021’ drills in October. The Naval Interaction 2021 took place in the Sea of Japan.
During the practical stages, the ships of the two countries practiced ‘mine defense tasks’ using artillery fire on training ranges. The sailors rehearsed tactical maneuvering and communications in a group setting.
A China-Russia joint naval ships formation carried out the joint maritime patrol，during which they organized exercises over joint sailing and joint maneuvers. The patrol was held right after China and Russia wrapped up a joint naval exercise from October 14 to 17. pic.twitter.com/Z2ucbEdRRW
— China News 中国新闻网 (@Echinanews) October 24, 2021
This was the first-ever joint maritime patrol exercise between the two nations that took place in the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. The two countries sent a total of 10 warships under the Russian Pacific Fleet and six carrier-based helicopters for the joint drills.
The location of this military interaction was also significant given the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan have emerged as the global flashpoints with rising Chinese belligerence in the region, especially against Taiwan.
Even though China considers these two drills as the core of its relationship with Russia as it took shape in 2021, there are other areas that have seen similar activity in terms of bilateral cooperation.
The two countries have strengthened ties in the energy sector with Sinopec, China’s energy giant, presenting a report on its participation and expansion in Russia earlier this week under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Energy cooperation between Russia and China has grown over a whole decade and both sides operate an energy joint venture, called Udmurtia Petroleum Corp.
Work also seems to have advanced on supplying gas from Russia to China through a pipeline called ‘Power of Siberia 2’ which was first proposed in 2019. If materialized, it will allow Russia’s Gazprom to deliver up to 50 billion cubic meters of gas via Mongolia to China.
There has been significant cooperation between the two partners in the area of space as well. Russia and China had announced earlier this year that they were set to build a lunar station together.
Both partners have made calls and signed agreements to strengthen trade ties and have come to each other’s defense on the diplomatic front. Russia recently confirmed its participation in the Winter Olympics to be held in China; the United States and several other countries have boycotted the Games.
With America being their common enemy, China and Russia have many potential areas of convergence. As the faultlines become starker with the West, the two could be expected to strengthen cooperation, with military collaboration leading the effort.