- - Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chinese and Russian military forces are set to hold a large-scale, weeklong joint naval drill beginning Sunday, and the maneuvers will be held in sensitive waters of the Yellow Sea just west of the Korean Peninsula.

Code-named Maritime Cooperation-2012, the drills were announced several weeks ago during the height of the satellite launch crisis in North Korea.

Analysts say the exercises are an aggressive gesture by the two navies to counter the naval bravado and resolve expressed by the navies of Japan, South Korea and the United States during the recent crisis.

A total of 16 Chinese warships and two submarines will join seven surface ships from Russia’s recently revamped Pacific Fleet in conducting a wide range of war games on the high sea.

The agenda for the drills calls for test firing of various weapons to destroy targets, practice for naval replenishment while ships are under way, joint navigation through difficult waterways, and joint search-and-rescue operations, according to an announcement by Russia’s Pacific Fleet headquarters in Vladivostok. The drills will conclude with a naval parade.

The objectives of this exercise are expected to be to show Sino-Russian unity in challenging the U.S.-led regional alliance surrounding the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese island chain; to form a united front to rebuff Japanese territorial demands in Russian-held “Northern Islands” and the hotly disputed Senkaku - called Diaoyu by the Chinese - islands, and to enhance the two navies’ interoperability.

The Russian navy’s flagship for the exercises will be the guided-missile destroyer Varyag. The use of the Varyag destroyer serves as a not-so-subtle political message to the Japanese, who in 1904 forced the Russians to scuttle an original Czarist navy heavy cruiser also named the Varyag at nearby Chemulpo [Inchon] Bay during the Russo-Japanese War. Another Varyag is now China’s first operational aircraft carrier. It began sea trials earlier this year, triggering concern from regional states that the power projection platform will become a vehicle of Chinese coercion in the future.

Perhaps the most provocative event of the upcoming drills will be the planned joint cruising voyage of a large mixed naval contingent of Chinese and Russian ships that will pass through the narrow Strait of Japan.

However, the public expressions of mutual trust and friendship by Beijing and Moscow may hide some unspoken difficulties the two countries are facing with each other. China’s much more insistent attitude on supporting Pyongyang and much more stringent stance on territorial disputes with Japan and South Korea make Beijing a more eager partner in the joint exercise. Russia, by contrast, has shown signs indicating Moscow is somewhat wary of its Chinese ally and hopes to avoid being exploited in the exercises.

In fact, one of the two Russian naval task forces slated to participate in the joint drills is on its way from the Gulf of Aden. While passing through the tense South China Sea two weeks ago, Moscow made a special point of ordering the task force, led by the anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Tributs, to pay a port call on Vietnam, the most formidable challenger to China’s expansive South China Sea claims.

The Russian warships arrived in the port of Ho Chi Minh City April 6 and were met with a hero’s welcome from the Vietnamese, who are buying six Kilo-class diesel electric submarines from Moscow as part of a military buildup aimed at countering China’s naval threat.

The Chinese were not happy about this Russian slight on the eve of the drills. “Russia should not be sending a wrong and ambiguous signal to the South [China] Sea at this particular time,” the official Chinese communist newspaper the Global Times stated bluntly in an editorial on April 11.

Then there is the problem of choosing a language for communications during the joint drills. The Chinese want to use both Chinese and Russian. But Moscow rejected the idea, insisting on using only Russian as the language for the exercises. The Chinese were irritated by the demand but had no choice but to accept what can only be viewed as an insulting condition.

On Monday, Russia’s official Itar-Tass news agency quoted a spokesman at the Russian Defense Ministry saying, “Russian and Chinese navies will use the Russian language to exchange information during an active phase of their joint naval exercise.

“Such a decision was taken at the final consultations between the Russian and Chinese navies last week,” the spokesman said.

TAIWAN RENEWS VOW TO PROSECUTE TRAITOR

Justin Yifu Lin, senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank, is still a wanted criminal in Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, according to officials in Taipei.

“Lin can visit Taiwan to see relatives and friends, but he will also be arrested and tried in a military court if he does so, which has always been our policy,” said Taiwanese Defense Ministry spokesman David Lo to reporters Tuesday.

Mr. Lin swam and defected to mainland China in 1979 while serving as an officer in the Taiwanese military. He then earned a master’s degree in Marxist political economy from Peking University and a doctorate from the University of Chicago. He has repeatedly expressed a desire to visit Taiwan, but the Taipei government wants to arrest and court-martial him for treason.

Miles Yu’s columns appear Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.