On Naval Ties, Russia Signals as China Blusters
Historically, naval exercises have at times played a key role in diplomatic signaling. One can only look back at the Franco-Russian naval exercises in 1891-1892, which portended the creation of the Double Entente and the Franco-Russian alliance.
Bearing that in mind, what do the Russian-Chinese naval exercises of April 22-27 tell us? First of all, it appears that there was far more commentary in the Chinese press than in the Russian one about these exercises. Second, although both sides announced the exercises only on March 29, they were the result of an agreement between both sides’ navies and armed forces in April -August, 2011. The Russian press claimed the earlier date and the Chinese and Taiwanese claimed August.
Third, these exercises appeared in the context of a growing frequency of exercises in Asia by Chinese, Russian and US-Asian forces and amid the reorientation of US forces to East Asia, a change that Beijing has publicly labeled as unfriendly and hostile.
Whereas US forces were conducting exercises with the Philippines just before these Sino-Russian exercises; only 10 days before these bilateral Sino-Japanese exercises the Russian air force flew some 40 bombers near Japan’s frontier as a Russian exercise.
Furthermore, this exercise consisted of simulated cruise missile launches. Consequently, even if the exercises were planned before the US policy initiative and the divisive Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum of 2011, it is easy to see why the Chinese military media in particular emphasized the unity of the two sides and the implicitly anti-American aspect of these exercises.
Indeed, the Chinese Press reported chief of the General Staff Chen Bingde’s statements that bilateral military cooperation was an important aspect of the overall cooperation between Russia.