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China, Russia Hold Joint Military Exercises


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Susan Stamberg.

Russian and Chinese forces today begin eight days of joint military exercises. Some 10,000 troops are expected to take part, making this their largest joint military operation since Russia and China fought US-led forces during the Korean War. Moscow and Beijing say the exercises, which are called Peace Mission 2005, are designed to counter terrorism, extremism and separatism. But the type of weaponry involved suggests a broader agenda. NPR's Vicky O'Hara reports.

VICKY O'HARA reporting:

The land, sea and air exercises will begin in the Russian port of Vladivostok and then move to China's coastal Shandong province. They're expected to include fighter jets, landing craft, anti-submarine vessels and long-range bombers. Jonathan Pollack, an Asia specialist at the US Naval War College, is skeptical of the official rationale for the exercises.

Mr. JONATHAN POLLACK (US Naval War College): There is a notional scenario that has been identified here that would involve some kind of a breakdown in authority in an unidentified country, therefore enabling or requiring Russia and China to demonstrate a capability to intervene to restore order. But, you know, some of the activities will include live-fire exercises including some actual testing of cruise missile capabilities by Russian long-range bombers in the Yellow Sea.

O'HARA: According to reports from Russia, China originally wanted to hold the exercises closer to Taiwan, which it has threatened to attack if it pursues independence. But Russia resisted holding the exercises near Taiwan. Again, Jonathan Pollack.

Mr. POLLACK: The Russians are at pains to argue that this does not have any implications for third-party situations, and in that read the question of Taiwan. But the demonstration of certain kinds of capabilities--the testing of cruise missiles and so forth--puts down a marker here, even if it does not have any immediate, direct implications for Taiwan.

O'HARA: Washington has been quite restrained in its public comments about the exercises. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says China and Russia advised Washington of what it had planned.

Mr. SEAN McCORMACK (Spokesman, Department of State): We are following the exercise. We expect that they will be conducted in a manner that supports the mutual goal of regional stability shared by the United States, China, and Russia.

O'HARA: The exercises are notable not only for the types of weapons systems involved, but for the fact that they are being held on Chinese soil. China is extremely sensitive about its sovereignty. And since Russia and China had a falling out in the late 1950s, the relationship has been characterized by mistrust. Peter Brookes, director of Asian studies at The Heritage Foundation, says the joint exercises are small in scale but huge in implication.

Mr. PETER BROOKES (The Heritage Foundation): This is a further warming of the strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing that was struck back in the 1990s. And it's my view that they signal the first real post-Cold War steps beyond rhetoric by Russia and China to balance and ultimately diminish US power across Asia.

O'HARA: Peter Brookes notes that both Russia and China have been upset over US support for democracy movements in their region. Over the past year and a half, the people of the former Soviet states of Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan have overthrown autocratic governments. Analyst Kurt Campbell of The Center for Strategic and International Studies says Beijing and Moscow also are incensed by the US bases in central Asia installed after 9/11.

Mr. KURT CAMPBELL (The Center for Strategic and International Studies): Both Russia and China feel that those bases in some ways compromise their own security, and they no longer buy the rationale that they're there for purposes of combat and terrorism. The Chinese in particular believe that those bases are part of an encirclement strategy that the United States has followed vis-a-vis China these past several years.

O'HARA: Kurt Campbell says what is most worrisome for the United States about the joint exercises is not increased cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, but Russian arms sales to China.

Mr. CAMPBELL: Russia today is the only reliable military supplier to China. And you've seen enormous amounts of military equipment, primarily aircraft, submarines and ships, flowing from Russia to China. And that also supports Russia's ailing defense industries.

O'HARA: Michael Swaine, a senior associate in the China program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says Russia may be using the joint exercises to showcase its wares to a very good customer.

Mr. MICHAEL SWAINE (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): There are some indications that the Russians are trying to sell strategic, more long-range aircraft that could launch cruise missiles and that the Chinese are interested in these, and those types of weapons are apparently going to be used in this exercise.

O'HARA: The United States has tried to convince Russia over the years not to sell weapons to China, but to little effect. Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Vicky O’Hara