Wed, Sep 21, 2016 - Page 8 News List

China and Russia: friends or foes?

By Parris Chang 張旭成

On Monday last week, China and Russia embarked on an eight-day joint naval exercise in the waters of and the skies above the South China Sea, dubbed “Joint Sea 2016.”

A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense said the drills were aimed at strengthening the ability of both nations’ navies to deal with maritime security threats, but then rather overdid it by adding: “The drills are not aimed at any particular country.”

Since 2005, China and Russia have held six military exercises, including in coastal waters off the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Last year, a Chinese fleet visited a Russian naval base in the Black Sea.

The South China Sea is a highly disputed body of water, with Taiwan, China and six other nations claiming sovereignty over islands, reefs and stretches of water in the area.

The disputes have become even more pronounced now that the Chinese lion has opened its mouth, setting its so-called “nine-dash line” claim and seeking to turn the South China Sea into its own domestic waterway.

In the past two years, Beijing has intensified its efforts through land reclamation and the construction of military installations in the South China Sea to beef up its military force and increase its ability to exert control over the disputed waters.

However, on July 7, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued a unanimous award in favor of the Philippines in the arbitration case it brought against China. The court overturned Chinese claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea, and in doing so, dealt a serious blow to Beijing’s military strategy and diplomatic calculations.

Beijing may be using this latest joint military exercise as a way to draw Russia into the dispute by leveraging Moscow’s power to alter the balance of power in the area, threaten the US and its allies, and demonstrate China’s resolve to uphold its sovereignty claims.

Since both China and Russia are under pressure from the US and its allies, strengthening military cooperation has benefits for both nations.

China’s defense industry and military technology still lag far behind that of the US and Russia. Chinese scientists and engineers still do not have the ability to innovate, research, develop and produce the latest in military hardware and systems.

Beijing therefore has to rely on either purchasing or stealing technology from advanced counties, such as the US and Russia, and producing counterfeit copies of foreign designs. It is trying its best to narrow the gap and hopes it will not be long until it has caught up.

Over the past two decades, the People’s Liberation Army has obtained from Russia new fighter aircraft, destroyers, submarines and anti-aircraft weapons systems such as the S-400 Triumf to strengthen its fighting ability.

However, due to fears that China will copy Russia’s designs and flood the global arms markets with cheap knock-offs — which would undermine the Russian defense industry’s profits — the Kremlin has always held back a little and even sells its most advanced equipment to Beijing’s enemies, such as Indonesia and Vietnam.

However, the situation has changed in recent years. There are two main reasons why China and Russia have chosen to accelerate the development of a closer security relationship.

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