MOSCOW - The truth is out. The joint war
games on northern Chinese beaches, part of a
military exercise between China and Russia, are
not designed to send warning messages to the
United States about the limits of its global
It's really all about China
and Russia practicing for a joint occupation of
North Korea, or so the Russian media will have us
More mundanely, the unprecedented
display of Russian and Chinese combined military
might also sends a signal to Central Asian
countries that both Moscow and Beijing will no longer
ignore American inroads into
the strategically important region. However,
Moscow has dismissed speculation of moves toward a
new military bloc or joint armed groupings
involving Russia and China.
"The issue of
forming a new military bloc between Russia and
China or creating a joint armed grouping is not
being considered," Interfax news agency quoted a
high-ranking military-diplomatic source in Moscow.
The source said, however, that Russian-Chinese
military cooperation could be developed within the
framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
(SCO), an international intergovernmental body
founded in Shanghai in June 2001 that now includes
China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan
and Uzbekistan. "Although the SCO is a political
organization, it has a military component, whose
role will be steadily growing," the source said.
Defense or deputy defense ministers from the other
SCO countries observed some of the exercises.
Officially, the joint drill, which is
scheduled to end Thursday, was supposed to
demonstrate advantages of anti-terrorism
cooperation within the SCO framework. "The Peace
Mission 2005 exercise clearly demonstrates the
advantages of military cooperation in the fight
against terrorism not only in a certain area but
in the whole SCO region," said Vyacheslav Kasymov,
head of the executive secretariat of the SCO
regional anti-terrorist center.
regional anti-terrorist center planned to hold an
anti-terrorist exercise in mountainous regions of
Central Asia in October involving troops from
Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, he said.
"Peace Mission 2005 provided us with useful
experience in conducting bilateral or multilateral
anti-terrorist operations," he said. Therefore,
the joint Russo-Chinese drill comes as an
inspiration, if not a rationale, for intensified
security build-up within the frames of the SCO.
Russia and China have been highlighting
the SCO as the cornerstone of regional security
and the major force in regional politics,
seemingly implying that the organization was
supposed to come as a counterbalance to growing US
influence in the region. This policy appeared to
entail the recent eviction of the US military from
a base in Uzbekistan, a SCO member.
Moreover, some statements by Russian
officials indicate wider ambitions for the SCO.
Russian General Staff chief Yury Baluyevsky
earlier told the media that the armed forces of
Russia and China, as SCO members, could be
involved in accomplishing joint tasks within the
frame of this organization. On the eve of the war
games, Baluyevsky said that China occupied "a key
position" in Russian foreign and strategic policy.
He stated that the war games were designed to
ensure the readiness of the two armies "to counter
the challenges we face today in Asia-Pacific and
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov
claimed that Russian-Chinese joint peacekeeping
operations in the Asia-Pacific region could be
possible eventually. He also said that Russia and
China could hold joint military exercises on a
regular basis. "This is possible, but we have not
made any plans yet," Ivanov was quoted by RIA
Novosti news agency. He added that the joint war
game should not be held annually.
Washington has been increasingly stuck in its
Iraqi quagmire, Russia and China seemingly availed
themselves an opportunity to demonstrate their
unwillingness to live in a unipolar world. Hence
the joint exercises came as a reminder that the
combined power of a "coalition of the unwilling"
(nations that chose to follow President George W
Bush into Iraq are seen as the coalition of the
willing) could eventually endeavor to challenge
the Bush administration's global vision.
Retired general Leonid Ivashov, former
deputy head of the Russian General Staff,
suggested the joint war-games were needed to face
new challenges. "Russia and China face the same
threats, not just terrorist, and the two nations
have to band together to tackle these challenges,"
he said, apparently hinting that Moscow and
Beijing have to join forces in a drive against the
Not surprisingly, some
Russian media outlets voiced a measure of
skepticism over officially stated goals of the
war-games as a largely anti-terrorism drill. China
and Russia could also practice a joint occupation
of North Korea, respected Izvestia daily
speculated. Such a scenario could be used in the
event of "sudden disappearance" of Kim Jong-il
from the political leadership, the daily wrote,
citing Japanese sources.
also talked of unprecedented openness in the joint
military drill with China. Facing media
allegations of a hidden agenda behind the
maneuvers, Russian officials reiterated that
Moscow was not hiding the truth about the
Russo-Chinese military exercise. "Russia is very
open and we are not hiding information on how the
exercise is progressing, and are always ready to
disclose any kind of information," Ivanov told
Yet despite official
clarification, some Russian media outlets remained
unconvinced. "China and Russia practice a scenario
for the World War III", the Russian liberal
Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily commented, referring to
a potentially wider conflict over Taiwan. Moscow
and Beijing ventured to stage an unprecedented
anti-American military demonstration, actually
amounting to intimidation of other nations in the
region, the daily commented.
The event was
covering extensively in Chinese newspapers but
officials had little to say except that the
exercises were not meant as a threat to a third
nation and that the operations were a success.
Meanwhile, Nezavisimaya Gazeta also
suggested that China could be potentially
interested in procuring up to 40 Russian-made
Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers. Russia also featured its
other sophisticated weaponry during the maneuvers.
As the Russian military displayed their advanced
weaponry in China, Moscow was understood to have a
commercial agenda during the drill. In other
words, during the drill Russia also sent a
message, or rather a sales pitch, to China.
Overall, the eight-day maneuvers, which
involved nearly 10,000 troops in east China's
Shandong Peninsula, have been interpreted as a
series of signals: to Washington, to other nations
in the region and even to one another. However,
multiplicity of signals bears a risk that some
could remain unheard.
Blagov covers Russia and post-Soviet states,
with special attention to Asia-related issues. He
has contributed to Asia Times Online since1996.
Between 1983 and 1997, he was based in Southeast
Asia. In 2001 and 2002, Nova Science Publishers,
NY, published two of his books on Vietnamese