Russia and China on Sunday launched six-day joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea off the east coast of China. The joint drill coincided with a further aggravation of the territorial dispute between China and several of its neighbors, especially the Philippines and Vietnam. The subject of the dispute – mostly uninhabited islands and atolls in the South China Sea, located in the exclusive economic zone with underwater resources of oil and gas.
In the dispute the U.S. supported its longtime ally, the Philippines, sending ships to the region and a detachment of marines. In those days the two countries have there own maneuvers, which also involves Japan, Australia and South Korea. Thus, the waters of the Pacific have become very noisy: geostrategic rivals “flexing their muscles.”
Under these conditions, Russia and China, which are not military allies were faced with the need to strengthen military cooperation, “Joint Russian-Chinese exercises were very timely,” – said Jacob Berger, the chief researcher at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies.
Chinese military experts – and the former military leaders, who, after leaving the service usually become members of the military-academic or research institutions, and influence public opinion – speak of the necessity of a military alliance between Russia and China. “It’s certainly not a formal opinion. Rather, the roll out trial balloons” – an expert explained.
Sino-Russian maneuvers in the background of increasing U.S. forces in Asia
Russian-Chinese exercises are officially named “Sea cooperation – 2012” (海上联合-2012). In addition to the warships, planes, helicopters, paratroopers are involved, and the submarine from China. During the maneuvers both sides will practice methods of combating terrorism and piracy in the dangerous maritime region.
This is the first two navies conduct joint exercise with these objectives, although they have already met four times since 2005. China has sent more than four thousand troops and 16 warships, also involved 13 aircraft and five helicopters.
Russia put four warships of Pacific Fleet – missile cruiser “Varyag”, large anti-submarine ship “Admiral Vinogradov” and “Marshal Shaposhnikov” as well as a large anti-submarine ship of the Northern Fleet, “Admiral Tributs”. Joint exercise also include support vessels “MB-37” and “Pechenga”.
The deputy chief of General Staff of the Russian Navy, Rear Admiral Leonid Sukhanov said that during the exercises both sides will work out methods for the prevention of military conflicts in the exclusive economic zones.
The aggravation of the territorial dispute
Six countries in Southeast Asia claim the Spratly Islands archipelago in the South China Sea, which has rich resources of oil and gas. This regularly leads to increased tension in the area and attempted occupation of the islands, reefs and shoals.
In mid-April, the conflict was almost turned into an open military confrontation between China and Philippines. Philippine Navy ship found Chinese fishing boats near Scarborough Reef – which is called Huanyan island in China. Shortly Chinese Coast Guard ships arrivied and did not allow Filipinos to capture fishermen. Only a few days later the diplomats of both countries, with the assistance of the United States, resolved the situation peacefully.
Scarborough Reef is located to the west of the former American military base in Subic Bay in Philippines.