Thu, Aug 18, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Chinese-Russian war games reflect a shaky alliance of sorts

DPA , MOSCOW

Thousands of Russian and Chinese troops deploy in a third country at the request of the UN to separate warring sides in a spiraling ethnic conflict.

This scenario for the "Peace Mission 2005" joint maneuvers that open today in Vladivostok and conclude on China's Shandong Peninsula next Thursday certainly passes muster at first glance.

But then details grate, such as the participation of diesel submarines and Russian long-distance and strategic bombers in a simulated repulsion of another country's navy from the conflict zone.

"In this case, the peacekeeping mission is transformed into something resembling a standard operation to take over a third country's territory," notes Russian military analyst Alexander Golts.

"It is not hard to guess which territory authorities have in mind. It is none other than Taiwan," he added.

Moscow and Beijing deny that the exercises involving 8,000-10,000 forces and some 140 ships are a rehearsal for seizing Taiwan.

They are rather geared to raise the ability of the armed forces to "jointly combat international terrorism, extremism and separatism," the Chinese government said in a recent statement.

The war games come amid efforts to establish a Chinese-Russian counterweight to US hegemony in world affairs.

After last month's talks in Moscow between Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the leaders issued a declaration that some observers deemed was edged with anti-US sentiment, criticizing "moves towards a monopoly" in global political issues and calling for a "multi-polar world order."

Moscow is particularly sensitive to the US military presence and growing influence in the republics of former Soviet Central Asia.

Meanwhile, Washington has reacted coolly to the combined display of military muscle in the Far East, saying that it believes the maneuvers will assist the common goal of ensuring stability in the region.

Another factor in the exercises is Russia's wish to maintain its lucrative arms sales to China, which reached an annual volume of US$1 billion in recent years.

Deployment over the coming days of Tu-22M long-range bombers and Tu-95 strategic bombers that can carry nuclear warheads may be part of a drive to interest the Chinese in purchases of these aircraft.

Russia is also aware that its influence in the Far East is steadily diminishing in the post-Soviet era. The joint exercises may be seen as elementary saber-rattling to boost its profile.

Amid Russia's dwindling clout in the "near abroad," or ex-Soviet republics along its borders, some Russian experts also warn that the growing alliance with China is fraught with risk.

"We've been so desperate to hold together the tatters of our own `near abroad' that we failed to notice that we have now become part of China's `near abroad,'" political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky said.

The chiefs of staff from the two countries will open the exercises today in the Russian port of Vladivostok.

The main activities will get under way from Saturday on the Shandong Peninsula on the Yellow Sea.

Russia's general staff has denied that Beijing initially wanted to stage the exercises off the coast of Taiwan, and said Shandong, which is located 1,300km to the north, was always the intended site.

Next month, Russian and Indian troops will also hold their first joint maneuvers against potential threats by militants on land and sea in Rajasthan in northwestern India and in the Indian Ocean.

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