NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Large-scale Russian war games involving some 2,000 Chinese soldiers began this week and included live-fire naval exercises near Japan.
China’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that the main components of the war games were held in eastern Russia and the Sea of Japan. The naval portion in the Sea of Japan involved a Chinese destroyer, a frigate, and a replenishment ship exercising with Russian warships. Chinese ground forces also included 300 military vehicles and equipment and 21 aircraft.
The war games, known as Vostok 2022 (“East 2022”), practiced “simulated missile strikes into the sea, artillery strikes against the simulated enemy landing force, etc,” the ministry said in a statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was seen watching the exercises in what analysts say is an attempt to show the Russian military remains formidable despite attacks by Ukrainian forces in the invasion Putin launched in late February. .
Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update on September 2 that despite heavy fighting in Ukraine, the Russian military went ahead with the annual Vostok war games that mark the end of the year of military training. . But the numbers are down this year.
“Russia publicly stated that 50,000 troops will participate, however it is unlikely that more than 15,000 people will actively participate this year,” the British ministry tweeted. “This is about 20% of the forces that participated in the last Vostok exercise in 2018.”
Heavy Russian military losses in Ukraine highlight the fact that strategic exercises such as Vostok “have failed to maintain the military’s capacity to carry out large-scale complex operations,” the British statement said. “Such events are highly scripted, do not encourage initiative and are primarily aimed at impressing Russian leaders and the international public.”
This year’s exercises also involved simulated Russian-Chinese airstrikes.
Video released by the Russian Defense Ministry showed joint activities of fighter jets and attack helicopters dropping bombs on targets at an undisclosed location.
Military analysts say China’s participation in the Vostok war games is the latest sign of ever closer relations with Russia. Beijing and Moscow in February signed a cooperation agreement called the “no limits” pact that outlined a program of deep and wide cooperation.
US officials say there have been no signs so far that China is supplying weapons and military goods to Russia in support of the Ukraine invasion, though China has been a vocal supporter of Russia’s argument that Ukraine and NATO provoked the war.
China’s participation in the exercises also seeks to promote the official Chinese narrative that Beijing is not isolated as it clashes with the United States and its allies in the region. Han Lin, director of the participating Chinese troops, said this is the fourth time the People’s Liberation Army has joined the war games organized by Russia.
“The Chinese side has dispatched ground teams in an organized, large-scale and systematic manner,” the Chinese statement said. “And for the first time, it has sent warships to the Sea of Japan for coordinated drills, serving to fully train the Chinese military’s ability to conduct joint military operations with multinational forces.”
Japan’s government protested the war games, some of which were held on islands controlled by Russia and also claimed by Japan. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the exercises were held on two of four disputed islands in what Tokyo calls the Northern Territories and Russia calls the Kuril Islands.
“Japan will continue to monitor the movements of these ships with great concern and will take all possible measures to carry out alert and surveillance activities in the waters surrounding Japan,” Matsuno told reporters on Monday.
Japan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff office said in a statement Saturday that the Chinese ships and three Russian corvettes were sighted 118 miles west of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
Putin promises closer cooperation with China
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the Chinese Communist Party’s No. 3 official on Wednesday during an economic conference on Russky Island near Vladivostok in the Sea of Japan.
According to a transcript of the meeting released by the Kremlin, Mr. Putin told Li Zhanshu to “convey our best wishes and regards to my good friend,” Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Mr. Li is chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s official parliament.
The Russian leader said he would meet Xi during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a China-led regional security group of nations, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, scheduled for September 15-16.
“I would like to wish all our Chinese friends and all Chinese comrades a successful 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China,” Putin said. “Our strategic partnership is growing very successfully. Our trade is increasing.”
In 2021, China-Russia trade grew 36 percent to $140 billion and will soon reach a target of $200 billion, Putin said.
Mr. Li told Mr. Putin: “Lately, under your leadership and that of President Xi Jinping, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership and interaction have shown a strong upward development trend.”
Earlier, Putin attacked the United States in a speech, criticizing the “Western sanctions frenzy” and aggressive efforts to force Western behavior and norms on other nations to “extinguish their sovereignty and bend them to their will.”
He also said that “the West is failing, the future is in Asia” and blamed global inflation on the United States and its allies.
The Japanese coast guard sails through the Taiwan Strait
Five to eight Japanese coast guard ships sailed into the Taiwan Strait last week, though the trip was not intended as a show of force or support for Taiwan.
According to reports from Asia, Japanese coast guard ships took shelter from a major typhoon that passed north of the 100-mile-wide strait of a major typhoon. The Japanese government made no mention of coast guard ships navigating the channel.
Japan’s NHK reported that at least five coast guard patrol boats were in the strait separating Taiwan from the mainland. The ships were deployed to protect Japan’s uninhabited Senkaku Islands and sailed south temporarily.
China has been engaged in what US officials have called military coercion of Taiwan since early August to protest a visit to the island by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other US lawmakers and officials.
Military analysts said the sending of Japanese ships into the Taiwan Strait is a positive sign.
Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, which has overall authority over the coast guard, has traditionally been controlled by Japan’s pro-China Komeito Party since 2012. The party has prevented the Japanese coast guard from taking actions high-profile near Senkakus or the Taiwan Strait over the past decade to avoid upsetting the Chinese.
Japan’s 11th Regional Coast Guard headquarters confirmed to NHK that three of its patrol boats were in the Taiwan Strait, along with patrol boats from other regional districts. Once the typhoon passes, the ships are expected to evacuate the strait, and the headquarters said the transit of the ships did not impact the safety of the Senkaku Islands.
China claims that it owns Senkakus and that its ships have clashed with Japanese ships near the islands in the past.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said China is continuing warship and warplane operations on the self-governing democratic island.
Five People’s Liberation Army warships and 12 PLA planes were detected around the island on Wednesday. Three of the planes crossed the median line through the middle of the Taiwan Strait, which is an unofficial dividing line between the mainland and Taiwan.
In response, Taiwanese interceptor planes were deployed along with warships and ground-based missile defense systems, the ministry tweeted.
— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.