China, Russia conducting first-ever joint military exercises
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia – Russian navy ships and long-range bombers headed Wednesday to a Chinese peninsula jutting into the Yellow Sea for the first-ever joint military exercises between the two nations.Moscow and Beijing will stage a mock intervention to stabilize an imaginary country riven by ethnic strife. But they insist the “Peace Mission 2005″ exercises – which were to start Thursday and include some 10,000 troops from land, sea and air forces – aren’t aimed at a third country.And analysts agree Russia and China are unlikely to team up against a common foe. They say the maneuvers are more of an exhibition of Russian arms – including its long-range strategic bombers, which can carry nuclear weapons – in the hope of luring Chinese buyers.Still, both countries will be looking to prove their military might during the eight days of war games on the Shandong peninsula.The U.S. Defense Department said last month that China’s military was increasingly seeking to modernize and could become a threat in the Asia-Pacific region as it looked to spread its influence.The Russian military is also eager to show it still has muscle despite much-publicized woes. Its weaknesses were highlighted again earlier this month when Russia had to call for outside help to rescue seven men stranded in a mini-submarine off its Pacific coast.The exercises come amid warming ties between the countries since the end of the Cold War, driven by mutual concerns about the United States’ dominance in world affairs and a shared interest in combating extremism in Central Asia.The two are the dominant countries in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes four former Soviet republics in Central Asia and added Iran, India and Pakistan this year as observers. Representatives from the organization’s countries have been invited to watch the exercises.At a July summit, the organization called on Washington to set a date for the withdrawal from Central Asia, where its forces have been deployed since after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to help support operations in neighboring Afghanistan.The United States had said it would withdraw from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan once combat operations in Afghanistan were finished. Last month, however, Uzbekistan ordered U.S. troops to leave the country within 180 days.Kyrgyzstan’s new administration called for a re-evaluation of the U.S. base in that country, but Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld later won assurances that American troops can stay for as long as they are needed to bring stability to Afghanistan.The United States said it has been advised of the exercises by both China and Russia, but isn’t sending observers.”We expect that whatever activities take place would be ones that would further what we believe is everybody’s shared goal of stability and peace in the region,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington. “We would hope that anything that they do is not something that would be disruptive to the current atmosphere in the region.”Despite Russia and China’s shared interest in Central Asia, Beijing’s main focus for now lies on Taiwan, which China lays claims to and has threatened to invade if the island declares formal independence.Russian news reports said Beijing had pushed to have the exercises staged closer to Taiwan – making it appear to be a possible rehearsal for an invasion.Analysts have noted the involvement of Russia’s Tu-95 strategic bombers and Tu-22M long-range bombers in the exercises – warplanes that can carry conventional or nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and are not usually part of peacekeeping operations. But the aircraft are expected to top China’s shopping list both to deter U.S. assistance to Taiwan in the event of a conflict and project Chinese strength across the region.During the drills, the Tu-95s will conduct demonstration flights in the area while the Tu-22Ms will test-fire missiles at ground targets, the deputy chief of Russia’s Land Forces in charge of the exercise, Col. Gen. Vladimir Moltenskoi, said last week.Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, head of the Russian armed forces general staff, said in a newspaper interview last week the aircraft were taking part because the exercises are being staged far from Russian bases and would help enforce a simulated aerial blockade. But Russia’s air force chief said earlier this year that the bombers would be involved in the exercises to tempt Chinese buyers.”These weapons that China is buying are clearly designed for a possible standoff over Taiwan,” said Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent defense analyst based in Moscow.The purchase of such strategic items in the past has been prevented by the Russian military, which must approve all sales to outside countries, he said.”Having such exercises demonstrates the closeness of the two militaries. That’s important if China wants to buy these weapons systems,” he said. “This is a political military exercise, much more political than military.”Beyond the sales pitch, it seems highly unlikely Russia would ever join China in a fight over Taiwan, said Robert Karniol, Asia-Pacific editor for military journal Jane’s Defense Weekly. “There are no indications of coming together to form a strategic alliance of Moscow and Beijing,” he said.However, the exercises demonstrate a shift in the Chinese military’s policy from its typical inward focus, Karniol said.”They’ve come to increasingly accept multilateral solutions and accepted the understanding that there are things to learn from exercising with other countries,” he said.Vail – Colorado
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