War Games

From Martyn…

There was much reporting in the international media of the China-Russian war games last week. Here in China, the games received blanket coverage and headlined the official state television news bulletins round the clock. The question is: why the fuss? After all, a mere 10,000 troops (8,200 from China and 1,800 from Russia) simply went through a week of co-ordinated air, sea and land exercises, including amphibious and parachute landings. Hardly groundbreaking stuff, and as Donald Rumsfield said, “Countries do that.”

YaleGlobal offered an interesting analysis:

Russia and China launched their first joint military exercise yesterday in a show of force calculated to dissuade the US from presuming a dominant role in global security.

While analysts say the exercises are mainly an excuse for Russia to showcase aircraft to its biggest military hardware client, the two countries are keen to erode Washington’s image as a world policeman.

Moscow and Beijing’s interests converge in central Asia, where both hope to quell Islamic extremism, preserve trade interests and stifle US attempts to dominate the region.

“It’s an attempt to remind the US that a different truth exists which can also be enforced by military might,” said Ivan Safranchuk of the Center for Defense Information.

Officially, Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan said the exercises were to “Improve capabilities to meet new challenges and threats and to fight international terrorism, extremism and separatism”. While Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, said “Only when we are closely united can we meet new challenges and threats,” and argued that the friendship of China’s and Russia’s armed forces would become a major guarantee for peace in the Asia-Pacific region and the world as a whole. The eight-day exercise was based on a scenario in which the two countries, acting under U.N. authority, aim to stabilize a country in the midst of ethnic strife.

It was significant that the Russian soldiers used in the airbourne assault were a reinforced company from the 76th Division, battle-hardened elite fighters and veterans of the Chechnya War. It was also touted as an opportunity for China to see Russia’s elite divisions in action and learn from them.

Ties between Beijing and Moscow have grown closer in recent years around points of common ground that include concern about instability in Central Asia. Both countries want to keep political turmoil in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan from spilling over their borders and to check the U.S. presence in the region.

China has also been looking to Russia for energy resources to feed its booming economy, while Moscow is keen to boost sales to Beijing of military hardware like the advanced bombers and fighter jets showcased during the war games. Many analysts believe Russia is using the drill to showcase weaponry it hopes to sell to China, in particular Tu-22M3 “Backfire” strategic bombers. The maneuvers saw the deployment of Beriev/Ilyushin A-50 early warning aircraft from the Russian military.

Earlier this week, Ivanov said the Tu-22M3 and Tu-95 “Bear” strategic bombers taking part in the drill would carry non-nuclear cruise missiles only. Other sophisticated Russian equipment being used includes an A-50 reconnaissance plane, which Ivanov said would be able to monitor any aircraft within 2,000 kilometers from the centre of the exercise. Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta claimed China was potentially interested in procuring up to 40 of the Tu-22M3 “Backfire” strategic bombers, which would have the capacity to threaten U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific with nuclear weapons.

Some observers see this as significant as China is reported to have sought to buy this aircraft from Russia after a planned purchase of a similar Israeli plane failed to materialize, reportedly over US objections.

The China state-run People’s Daily said on Friday the two countries would increase military trade to a volume of $60-$80 billion by 2010. China would also pour $12 billion of investment into Russia’s energy sector and infrastructure construction before 2020.

Russian media have said China paid for the entire exercise, reflecting the high value attached to it by Beijing. However, this contradicts statements from Deputy Army Commander Vladimir Moltensky who said the joint military exercise cost it some US$5.5 million.

Russian newspaper Kommersant also cited the fact that Russia has supplied 85% of Chinese arms imports since the early 90s and pointed out that if the EU embargo were lifted, Russia would receive serious competitors in the arms market. “For that reason, the maneuvers should persuade the Chinese that the Russian arms are the most reliable and the cheapest in the world and they should keep using them.”

The liberal daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta suggested that China and Russia were practicing a scenario for “World War III,” calling the exercise an unprecedented anti-American military demonstration. Izvestia, a respected daily, suggested that China and Russia could be practicing a mission to invade North Korea, should Kim Jong-il’s leadership collapse.

Japanese minister, and right-wing hawk, Shoichi Nakagawa offered his own opinions of the exercises:

Joint military exercises on China’s Shandong Peninsula mark the start of a strategic initiative in which Russia would support Beijing’s suppression of any move by Taiwan towards independence, a Japanese minister has suggested.

Economics, Trade and Industry Minister Shoichi Nakagawa noted that the unprecedented Sino-Russian war games, which ended on Thursday, were directed at curbing terrorism and separatism, “which obviously means they have Taiwan in mind, as well”.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 18 Comments

The China state-run People’s Daily said on Friday the two countries would increase military trade to a volume of $60-$80 billion by 2010.

Can you provide a link for the People’s Daily article? These are incredibly high numbers, bigger than even the most exaggerated estimates for the PLA’s entire budget.

August 29, 2005 @ 1:32 am | Comment

Hi Hui Mao. I agree the figures are extremely high. Part of the reason why I thought it was worth taking the time to write up a full analysis.

Anyway, here’s the People’s Daily link and a Reuters article that also reports the figures. Thanks.

August 29, 2005 @ 1:56 am | Comment

Good article, Martyn.

There’s a wide variety of reasons why this exercise took place. Russia is very happy to have such close relations with surging China, military and other. It is probably Russia’s one and only lifeline too.

I don’t think the Taiwan issue is involved though. The exercise aims much more at co-operation in the region of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the other nearby unstable neighbors, and also the Uygur Autonomous Region. The latter being meant when “separatism” is mentioned, as these are the guys (called terrorists by some) who now and then detonate a bomb in a mainland airport. As far as I know, Taiwanese separatists have not bombed anything.

As for the $60 billion, that may be a faulty translation. Chinese often have trouble correctly translating large figures.

August 29, 2005 @ 4:17 am | Comment

Thanks Mitch. Nice analysis.

I agree with your view of the Taiwan thing from Japanese right-wing nut Nakagawa. There’s as much chance of the Russians supporting China in any war with America over Taiwan as aliens landing on earth tomorrow and promptly declaring their strict adherance to the “One-China” Principle.

The Russians and Chinese have had, over the last 50 years, a relationship like an old married couple. I.e. staying together out of mutual need but spending half the time ignoring one another and the other half bickering.

However, now they come together out of, as you say, a mutual need. China wants oil, resources and weapons and Russia needs the cash. I don’t subscribe to this doomsday scenario of a Sino-Russian axis rising to oppose the US. Under the surface China-Russia have a few problems of their own.

August 29, 2005 @ 4:31 am | Comment

I have to admit, I find the idea of China & Russia becoming “world policemen” very amusing, as neither countries have shown much of an interest in peacekeeping, bar a few token gestures. Unless of course, they’re going to ape the US involvement in places like Iraq……

August 29, 2005 @ 5:57 am | Comment

Other sophisticated Russian equipment being used includes an A-50 reconnaissance plane, which Ivanov said would be able to monitor any aircraft within 2,000 kilometers from the centre of the exercise. Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta claimed China was potentially interested in procuring up to 40 of the aircraft, which would have the capacity to threaten U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific with nuclear weapons.

I’m a little confused by this section. The A-50 Mainstay is an AWACS aircraft which is useful for coordinating flight plans and identifying incoming aircraft. How does this offer China an ability to threaten America carriers with nukes?

August 29, 2005 @ 6:30 am | Comment

My mistake! Thanks BS (unfortunate initials!). I’ll change it. The newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta actually reported that the Tu-22M3 “Backfire” strategic bombers have the capacity to threaten U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific with nuclear weapons.

Ah, now that makes much more sense. My apologies and thanks again.

August 29, 2005 @ 6:46 am | Comment

Best of the Blogosphere Today

The blogosphere provides plenty of good reading today. This time we have war games, tar sands, and riots. Sounds like a good time, right?

August 29, 2005 @ 7:10 am | Comment

Considering that the two sides were trading fire in 1969, this exercise is an historic event. Mitch’s point is well taken. Both sides may be demonstrating that while both Russian and Chinese Central Asia may be Muslim, radical islamic separatism will not be tolerated. Despite the view from the American far right, it is not a challenge to U.S. interests in the region, and its coincidence with U.S.-Korean combined exercises is more likely due to weather and training calendar compatibility.

August 29, 2005 @ 7:19 am | Comment

I agree that Russia would not support China in a war over Taiwan, but I disagree that this exercise has nothing to do with Taiwan. It is no accident that the drills were carried out in a region that resembles what the Chinese would face by invading an island (in this case, it was a peninsula). It is also well known that the exercise was originally slated to take place much further south (in the same general region as Taiwan). The Russians did not allow this location precisely because they did not want to be linked to Taiwan. As for western separatists, if this activity were meant to target them, wouldn’t it make more sense to carry it out in an area that resembles the terrain they would face under those conditions? If there were some kind of conflict with the Xinjiang separatists, I really doubt the coast would be a part of it.

August 29, 2005 @ 8:52 am | Comment

monday links

Red Herring reports that the crackdown o

August 29, 2005 @ 9:05 am | Comment

You are right with those remarks, Thomas, and they crossed my mind too.

I wouldn’t know for sure, of course, but having the exercise anywhere near those Central Asian states might have been considered too much of an intimidation. The same goes for the Taiwan area, so the Shandong peninsula came out as a compromise. It’s also much closer to the big Russian naval bases.

China also wants to keep Western China (Xinjiang) clean of any kind of bad reputation, as they are trying to get people to move over there and help the development. An exercise in the West may have sparked a lot of bad media coverage on any and all kinds of insurgence problems there.

But again, I didn’t sit in on the meeting either ;-)

August 29, 2005 @ 9:32 am | Comment

Good post, Martyn. While the idea of Russia and China acting as “global police” may amuse some, the same could have been said about the United States prior to WWII. The actions of America have created a void in leadership, and while we may debate the ability (credibility) of Russia and/or China to fulfill this gap, nevertheless the gap remains and nature, as we know, abhors a vacuum.

I think the upcoming Indo-Russian war gameswill be equally as remarkable; certainly something to keep an eye on.

August 29, 2005 @ 11:19 am | Comment

Thanks for the link, Martyn. I think the figure given in the article is about total bilateral trade, not military trade.

The diplomat said that the leaders of Russia and China have “set the task of bringing bilateral turnover up to US$60 to 80 billion by 2010,” adding that there are still major investment projects to be implemented in the future.

August 29, 2005 @ 1:27 pm | Comment

Hui Mao, thanks, that’s right, it’s bi-lateral trade. You’ll notice the above link to the Reuters article included a correction chaging, as you say, military trade to total bi-lateral trade.

August 30, 2005 @ 1:45 am | Comment

To all,

China is being quite prudent in cooperating with Russia on the military front. After all, they both share the same part of the world, the vast continent of Asia. And it’s good for both Russians and Chinese to have their governments have a more peaceful relationship. I am happy for them.

Now, having said that, why are you so worried? Ulterior motives…hm?

August 30, 2005 @ 4:42 pm | Comment

AC, I largely agree with your take.

As to why we are all worried, no, I think the oppostite is true. The only reason I decided to do the write-up was because of all the press attention and speculation the wargames received.

If anything, the wargames received the most coverage here in China where the story lead the evening news bulletins for the best part of a week–I should know, I watched ‘em.

Why the big deal?

August 30, 2005 @ 10:49 pm | Comment

Just to say hellow!

September 16, 2005 @ 7:00 am | Comment

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