Ten thousand Russian and Chinese troops were preparing to invade the Shandong Peninsula in the Yellow Sea yesterday in a first joint military exercise, seen as a reaction to US dominance of world affairs.
The eight-day exercise, called Peace Mission 2005, will use air, sea and land forces to simulate a mission stabilising a restive country, and marks a new friendly phase in a bilateral relationship that has often been characterised by open hostility.
Analysts have pointed to opportunistic reasons behind the new relationship, with China keen to buy Russian oil, gas and weaponry and Moscow keen to sell.
Both countries want to send a message to Washington that the world is no longer unipolar but bipolar and that the world’s largest country (Russia) and the world’s most populous country (China) have common interests.
From a practical point of view it is important that the two get along, since they share a 2,700-mile border.
Chinese workers have also started moving into Russia’s under-populated Far East en masse, a phenomenon that clearly worries Moscow.
Speaking in the Russian far eastern port of Vladivostok yesterday, military top brass from both countries insisted that the exercise was not designed to threaten any third country.
“These manoeuvres do not have hostile intentions,” said General Yuri Baluyevsky, the Russian army’s chief of staff. “Our exercises do not threaten any one country and we will clearly stick by this principle.”
Though the exercise will simulate an attack on a fictional restive country, Moscow and Beijing are keen to stress that they are rehearsing a peace-keeping mission that would be conducted under United Nations auspices.
The fictional scenario envisages an imaginary state engulfed in a wave of violence fuelled by “ethnic and religious differences”. Both sides have spoken of the need to “fight against international terrorism, separatism and extremism,” words that will give pause for thought to Taiwan and Chechnya respectively.
Russian media analysts have also speculated that Moscow is keen to send a signal to anyone thinking about launching a Ukraine-style velvet revolution that they should think again.
The aim of the 10,000-strong Russo-Chinese force taking part in Peace Mission 2005 is to “restore order” and quell a numerically superior enemy force of some 100,000.
They will do this by launching an amphibious and airborne assault, by launching cruise missiles from bombers and submarines and by deploying infantry units against “illegal armed formations” who will be “played” by Chinese troops.
In an inauguration ceremony for the exercises, the commanders of the general staffs of Russia and China laid wreaths at a Second World War memorial in Vladivostok.
The drills are beginning just days after commemorations across Asia of the 60th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in the Pacific.
The generals repeatedly stressed at a news conference that the drills weren’t intended to be a show of intimidation.
The exercise formally started yesterday but has three distinct phases; military-political consultations and operational planning, the delivery and deployment of force, and armed combat.
Washington has not sent observers, but will be watching closely all the same.
The exercise comes just days after the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, personally observed a naval exercise by the country’s Northern Fleet.