Beijing: China and Russia have begun a joint naval exercise in the South China Sea. The eight-day marine exercises come amid rising tensions over Chinese island-building activity in the region as well as an increasing presence of the US military. The drills are bound to spark further fears over China’s expansionist claims in the region, given that the official brief for the drill includes “island seizing missions”.
The drills are taking place in the South China Sea, south of Guangdong Province. Called the ‘Joint Sea 2016’. The drills, the fifth such exercise between the Chinese and Russian navies, will continue till September 19.
A Chinese Defence Ministry spokesperson had said in July that the drill “will not target a third party”. However, that seems like little solace for Southeast Asian nations locked in territorial conflicts with China, given a statement by Chinese Navy spokesperson Liang Yang.
“Together, Chinese and Russian participants will undertake defense, rescue, and anti-submarine operations, in addition to joint-island seizing missions and other activities,” Liang said on Sunday.
“The marine corps, in particular, will carry out live-fire drills, sea crossing and island landing operations, and island defense and offense exercises among others,” he added.
The drills come at a time when the US, as part of its ‘Pivot to Asia’ reorientation of foreign policy, is increasing the presence ensuring of its Seventh Fleet in the South China Sea region. Washington has claimed the increased deployment is aimed at ensuring free access to Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs), or major international shipping routes.
The drills are also significant considering they are being jointly carried out by two countries that are locked in heated struggles for influence with the US. While China has felt rising discomfort over increased US attention and presence in a region it considers it backyard, Russia has been flexing its muscles in Eastern Europe.
The China-Russia naval drills have been taking place since 2012, but the locations have usually not been as sensitive. The Russian Navy will bring three surface ships, two supply ships, two helicopters, 96 marines and amphibious armoured equipment to the exercises. The Chinese Navy will deploy 10 ships, including destroyers, frigates, landing ships, supply ships and submarines. China will also take part in the exercises with 11 fixed-wing aircraft, eight helicopters, and 160 marines and amphibious armoured equipment.