The Chinese and Russian navies yesterday launched eight days of war games in the South China Sea, in a sign of growing cooperation between their armed forces against the backdrop of regional territorial disputes.
The “Joint Sea-2016” maneuvers include ships, submarines, ship-borne helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, along with marines and amphibious armored vehicles that will conduct live-fire exercises, according to a Chinese Ministry of National Defense statement on Sunday.
Tasks will include defensive and rescue drills, marine patrol exercises and the simulated seizure of an enemy island by marines from both sides.
The exercise is part of an annual program that “aims to consolidate and advance the Sino-Russian comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination, and deepen friendly and practical cooperation between the two militaries,” Chinese navy spokesman Liang Yang (梁陽) was quoted as saying.
“It will also improve coordination between the two navies on joint defense operations at sea,” Liang said.
China’s South Sea Fleet will make up the bulk of the forces, along with some elements from the North and East Sea fleets, Liang said.
The ministry did not say exactly where the drills would be held in the South China Sea.
However, Xinhua news agency said the Russian ships arrived early yesterday in the Guangdong Province port of Zhanjiang and the exercises would be held off the Guangdong coast, apparently in waters that are not in dispute.
Joint Chinese-Russian drills have become increasingly common in recent years — this week’s exercises are the fifth since 2012.
While China says the drills do not envision specific enemies or target any third parties, their location in the South China Sea has drawn criticism.
During a visit to China last month, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift, said: “There are other places those exercises could have been conducted.”
He described them as part of a series of actions “that are not increasing the stability within the region.”
Xinhua yesterday rejected such sentiments in a commentary, saying those viewing the exercises as threatening were “either ill-informed ... or misled by their prejudice about China and Russia.”
“A logical guess is that, for those who have bought the sensational claim regarding the drill, they probably only see words like ‘island seizing’ and ‘South Sea Fleet’ and start to imagine a war in the South China Sea,” Xinhua said.
Russian news outlets said 18 ships — including a Russian battleship, destroyers and cruisers — 21 aircraft and more than 250 marines from both sides would take part.
However, Xinhua reported that the Russian component would include three surface ships, two supply ships, two helicopters, 96 marines and amphibious armored equipment.
China would contribute 10 ships, including destroyers, frigates and submarines, along with 11 fixed-wing aircraft, eight helicopters, 160 marines and amphibious armor, Xinhu said.
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