China and Russia were holding a joint military exercise yesterday, with the drill seen as a chance to beef up “anti-terrorism” cooperation after a flare-up of violence in Xinjiang.
The “Peace Mission 2009” five-day exercise in northeast China comes weeks after China’s worst ethnic unrest in decades between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in the far-western region of Xinjiang that killed at least 197 people.
“To some extent, the July 5 Xinjiang riot pushed forward anti-terrorism cooperation between China and Russia,” the China Daily newspaper quoted Major Wang Haiyun (王海雲), a former Chinese military attache to Russia, as saying.
Russia itself has been grappling with rising violence in the North Caucasus regions of Ingushetia, Dagestan and Chechnya. Russia and China are also wary of a rising tide of instability in post-Soviet Central Asia that has spilled over from Afghanistan.
“The situation in Central Asia itself, including Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, is not so good, so that’s the most likely area of practical cooperation. And in fact they’re learning new ways to fight against Islamic insurgents and Uighurs,” said Vassily Kashin, a Chinese military expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Moscow.
Russia and China are the core members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which some experts say is an attempt to form an alternative military bloc to NATO.
The SCO’s members also include the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
“Some NATO officials ... fancy it is up to them to look after world order, performing the role of the world’s policeman,” Russian military analyst Viktor Litovkin said. “But the situation in Afghanistan shows that NATO, without Russia, without assistance from the Central Asian states, China and other leading nations of the region, is unable to deal alone with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”
But analysts said the smaller scale of the bilateral exercise compared with one in 2007 under the SCO, reflects a recent cooling of Sino-Russian military ties.
“In reality, they are downgrading or reducing their military ties for the past couple of years,” said Andrew Yang (楊念祖), the head of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan.
“[China has] already reached a stage where they can produce or develop their own indigenous and advanced weapons systems. They’re no longer totally reliant on Russian support.”
When asked during a video link with Beijing what new weapons Russia would show off during the drills, military analyst Litovkin said he believed there would not be any.