While the United States allied with Japan and the Philippines to mount a series of marine drills in Pacific waters, as part of the US’ “rebalancing to Asia-Pacific” strategy, China and Russia held a “Joint Sea-2013” naval drill in Peter the Great Bay, Sea of Japan from July 5 to 12. Following it will be a joint anti-terrorism military exercise code-named Peace Mission-2013 in Russia’s Chelyabinsk from July 27 to August 15.
Chinese warships taking part in the naval drill included four destroyers, two frigates and one supply ship, marking the largest maneuver the Chinese navy had ever conducted in joint military exercises with a foreign partner. The drill focused on joint maritime air defense, rescue of hijacked ships and strikes on marine targets.
The China-Russia naval drill was of strategic importance in two senses: it built upon Russia and China’s strategic partnership and it worked to neutralize US and Japanese actions in the Asia-Pacific.
First, the drill helped strengthen the strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries. President Xi Jinping visited Russia on March 22-24 to bring the bilateral relationship to new heights, with the two sides issuing a joint statement on deepening their comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership and promising mutual support on issues concerning each side’s fundamental interests, such as sovereignty, territorial integrity and national security.
The two sides vowed to deepen mutual understanding and cooperation on the issues of anti-missile shields and oppose any unilateral and unrestrained building of anti-missile capabilities by a single or group of countries. They also called for setting up a regional security cooperative framework that features openness, transparency, equality and inclusiveness. Though not a relationship between allies, the “special bond” between China and Russia not only meets both sides’ strategic needs, but also constitutes a powerful counter force against Western powers’ hegemony and power politics.
Second, the Sino-Russian joint naval exercise will help neutralize the “negative force,” as demonstrated by the US and Japan in their latest moves, that disrupts regional peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific. Currently, the region is facing two major security challenges on the maritime front. First, Washington is advancing its “rebalancing” to the Asia-Pacific. At the Asia Security Summit held in Singapore last month, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the US government would allocate 60 percent of its naval assets and overseas-based air forces to the Asia-Pacific by 2020. Meanwhile, the US has conducted frequent military exercises with its allies in waters in front of China’s “home gate” and has fanned the flames of disputes in East and South China Seas in a bid to contain China and maintain its hegemony in the region.
The second of the aforementioned challenges is that Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party regime has gone against the world trend for peace and demonstrated an increasingly right-wing tendency. The LDP has adopted a hard-line stance in the dispute with China over the Diaoyu Islands, trying to “rival and contain” China. Japanese right-wingers keep whitewashing the country’s military past and trying to revise the country’s pacifist constitution. Japan is challenging the post-war international order in a bid to become an “all-capable power”.
Given this background, the Sino-Russia naval exercise was a timely move. The security landscape of the Asia-Pacific will feature a strategic game between the US-Japan alliance and the China-Russia partnership, although this division is different from the way Cold War divided the world into two armed camps.
In the US-Japan alliance, the US is the dominant side. Despite their inherent conflict of interests, both sides view their bond as the axis of their Asia-Pacific strategies, and they both attempt to counter the “threat” from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, contain China’s rise, jointly dominate the Asia-Pacific maritime order and build an anti-missile system in the region. The alliance also includes some “new partners”, among whom the Philippines appears the most willing to dance to Washington and Tokyo’s tune with its willful challenge to China in the South China Sea.
The strategic cooperative partnership between China and Russia serves to exert an opposing force against the US-Japan alliance, as both countries have territorial rows with Japan and both are alert to the US’ interference in Asia-Pacific affairs. President Xi’s state visit to Russia and the just concluded joint naval drill herald a new period of strategic opportunity for Sino-Russian relations.
The two “groupings” will continue to be engaged in a strategic game centered on Asia-Pacific security affairs. The US-Japan alliance is the old “dominant” force in the region while the China-Russia partnership is a newly rising force seeking a change to the old regional order. Third parties such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, India, the Republic of Korea and Australia will try to butter their bread on both sides by trying to keep both groupings happy.
Chen Xiangyang, Deputy Director of the Institute of World Political Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.