Wed, Sep 05, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Why China and Russia are obsessed with vast new war games

As the West fixates on US President Donald Trump, Brexit and other domestic crises, Chinese troops are to join their Russian counterparts for Moscow’s largest military exercises in more than three decades

By Peter Apps  /  Reuters

The US’ response, unsurprisingly, has been to do very much the same. In Europe, that has meant a dramatically stepped-up involvement in NATO exercises, particularly in countries that are most vulnerable to Russia, such as the Baltic states, Norway and Poland. US and allied warships and aircraft have continued to aggressively control disputed areas of the South China Sea, even as Beijing has dramatically increased its military presence in the area.

Clearly, that is something that infuriates Moscow and Beijing.

China has tried to exclude the US from regional military exercises that it wants to organize with other ASEAN members, while Russian media have repeatedly complained that NATO forces in Eastern Europe are themselves provocative and a threat to nearby Russian troops and territory. All this feeds into a rising tide of global distrust.

This year, the US disinvited China from taking part in its Rim of the Pacific naval drills, in part due to espionage fears, but also in protest against China’s growing South China Sea bellicosity.

For all their increasingly allied interest against the US, there are no signs that Russia and China particularly trust each other. Moscow has long feared Beijing might try to grab territory in its sparsely populated center, while Beijing has had its own worries about how Russia might use its military against it.

Indeed, some observers suspect one of the principal reasons that Moscow invited Beijing to take part in next month’s exercises is to keep Beijing from worrying that they might be a precursor to actual military action.

Where the truth lies is inevitably difficult to know, but the more energy and focus the world’s great powers put into extravagant war games, the greater the likelihood that they might find themselves in a real and perhaps uncontrollable conflict.

Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs columnist and founder and executive director of the think tank Project for Study of the 21st Century. The opinions expressed are his own.

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