Russian and Chinese bombers flew a joint patrol mission over the Western Pacific on Tuesday in what is considered a show of close military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing.
Russian military officials said a pair of its Tu-95MS strategic bombers along with four Hong-6K bombers from the air branch of China’s People’s Liberation Army flew the missions over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.
The aircraft operated in “strict compliance” with international law, according to the Russian news agency TASS, which cited the Russian defense ministry as claiming the patrol wasn’t directed against any third countries.
However, the development comes at a moment of mounting Cold War-style friction between the U.S. and China, as well as ongoing tensions between Russia and NATO.
In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the idea of a future Russia-China military alliance can’t be ruled out — an assertion many saw as a sign of deepening military cooperation between the two amid growing tensions in their relations with Washington. Mr. Putin also said in October that Russia had been sharing sensitive military technologies with China to help bolster Beijing’s defense capabilities.
Tuesday’s joint patrol was similar to one carried out by Russian and Chinese forces in the same area in July 2019, according to TASS, which said the patrols aim to improve “capabilities for conducting joint measures and strengthening global strategic stability.”
U.S. officials bristled at the July patrol, with some privately calling them as a provocation.
Recent years have seen U.S.-Russia relations sink to levels not seen since the Cold War, amid a range of issues such as Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. But U.S. officials have also increasingly identified China as America’s primary strategic competitor on the global stage.
The prospect of Chinese-Russian strategic cooperation may underscore what some national security sources have described as a “new normal” of a 21st-century global conflict, with regular brinkmanship and posturing likely to shape the coming decades of U.S. strategy.
U.S. military officials have spent years bracing for such a dynamic, and the Trump administration’s landmark 2018 National Defense Strategy laid out the Pentagon’s plans for dealing with aggressive adversaries that don’t necessarily adhere to geopolitical norms or respect international boundaries of the past.
The strategy document announced the return of competition among global superpowers as the U.S. moves away from what had been a laserlike focus on the Middle East and counterterrorism for the past 20 years. Other warnings by the Pentagon and by U.S. lawmakers have homed in on the rising threat posed specifically by China’s military expansion.
A major congressional report issued this month warned of the Chinese military’s ability to project power globally. The People’s Liberation Army has made advances in missiles, bombers, transport aircraft, at-sea replenishment and logistics in ways that “significantly improved the PLA’s ability to project power and deploy expeditionary forces far from China’s shores,” the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission concluded in its annual report.
“China’s power projection capabilities are developing at a brisk and consistent pace, reflecting the civilian leadership’s determination to transform the PLA into a global expeditionary force in a matter of decades,” the report’s authors said. “By mid-century, the PLA aims to be capable of rapidly deploying forces anywhere in the world.”
• Ben Wolfgang and Bill Gertz contributed to this report.