NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Large-scale Russian war games involving some 2,000 Chinese troops kicked off this week and included live-fire naval exercises near Japan.
China’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday that the main components of the war games were carried out in eastern Russia and the Sea of Japan. The naval portion in the Sea of Japan involved a Chinese destroyer, frigate and replenishment ship exercising with Russian warships. Chinese ground forces also included 300 vehicles and military equipment and 21 aircraft.
The war games, known as Vostok 2022 (“East 2022”), practiced “simulated missile attacks to the sea, artillery strikes against mock enemy’s landing force, etc.,” the ministry said in a statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was seen observing the exercises in what analysts say is a bid to show that the Russian military remains formidable despite its pounding by Ukrainian forces in the invasion Mr. Putin initiated in late February.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update on Sept. 2 that despite the heavy fighting in Ukraine, the Russian military went ahead with the annual Vostok war games that mark the end of the military training year. But the numbers were down this year.
“Russia publicly claimed that 50,000 troops will take part, however it’s unlikely that more than 15,000 personnel will be actively involved this year,” the British ministry tweeted. “This is about 20% of the forces which participated in the last Vostok exercise in 2018.”
Heavy Russian military losses in Ukraine highlight the fact that strategic exercises like Vostok “have failed to sustain the military’s ability to conduct large-scale, complex operations,” the British statement said. “Such events are heavily scripted, do not encourage initiative, and primarily aim to impress Russian leaders and international audiences.”
The exercises this year also involved Russian-Chinese simulated air strikes.
Video released by the Russian Defense Ministry showed joint activities by fighter jets and attack helicopters dropping bombs on targets at an undisclosed location.
Military analysts say China’s participation in the Vostok war games is the latest sign of increasingly close relations with Russia. Beijing and Moscow in February signed a cooperation agreement being called the “no limits” pact that outlined a program of broad and deep cooperation.
U.S. officials say so far there has been no sign that China is supplying military goods and weapons to Russia in support of the Ukraine invasion, though China has been a vocal supporter of Russia‘s argument that Ukraine and NATO provoked the war.
China’s participation in the exercises also seeks to promote the Chinese official narrative that Beijing is not isolated as it clashes with the U.S. and American allies in the region. Han Lin, director of the Chinese troops taking part, said this is the fourth time that the People’s Liberation Army has joined the Russian-organized war games.
“The Chinese side has dispatched ground equipment in an organized, large-scale, and systematic manner,” the Chinese statement said. “And for the first time, it has sent naval ships to the Sea of Japan for coordinated drills, which serves to fully train the Chinese military’s ability to jointly conduct military operations with multinational forces.”
Japan’s government protested the war games, some of which were conducted on Russian-held islands also claimed by Japan. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the exercises took place on two of four disputed islands in what Tokyo calls the Northern Territories, and Russia calls the Kuril Islands.
“Japan will continue to monitor the movements of these ships with serious concern, and will take all possible measures to conduct warning and surveillance activities in the waters surrounding Japan,” Mr. Matsuno told reporters on Monday.
Japan’s Joint Staff office said in a statement Saturday that the Chinese ships and three Russian corvettes were spotted 118 miles west of Japan’s northern Hokkaido island.
Putin vows closer China cooperation
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the Chinese Communist Party’s No. 3 official during an economic conference on Russky Island, near Vladivostok, in the Sea of Japan on Wednesday.
According to a transcript of the meeting published by the Kremlin, Mr. Putin told Li Zhanshu to “please convey our best regards and wishes to my good friend,” Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Mr. Li is chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, China rubber-stamp parliament.
The Russian leader said he would meet with Mr. Xi during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a China-led regional security group of nations, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan set for Sept. 15-16.
“I would like to wish all our Chinese friends and all Chinese comrades a successful 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China,” Mr. Putin said. “Our strategic partnership is growing very successfully. Our trade is increasing.”
In 2021, China-Russia trade grew by 36% to $140 billion and will soon reach a target goal of $200 billion, Mr. Putin said.
Mr. Li told Mr. Putin: “As of late, under your and President Xi Jinping’s leadership, the comprehensive strategic partnership and interaction between China and Russia have demonstrated a strong upward development trend.”
Earlier Mr. Putin attacked the United States in a speech and criticized “Western sanctions frenzy” and aggressive efforts to force Western behavior and norms on other nations to “extinguish their sovereignty and to bend them to its will.”
He also said “the West is failing, the future is in Asia” and blamed global inflation on the United States and its allies.
Japanese coast guard sails Taiwan Strait
Between five and eight Japanese coast guard vessels sailed in the Taiwan Strait last week, though the trip was not meant as a show of force or support for Taiwan.
According to reports from Asia, the Japanese coast guard ships took refuge from a major typhoon that passed north of the 100-mile-wide strait from a major typhoon. The Japanese government made no mention of the coast guard vessels sailing in the waterway.
Japan’s NHK reported that at least five coast guard patrol boats were in the strait that separates Taiwan from the mainland. The vessels were deployed to guard Japan‘s uninhabited Senkaku Islands and sailed south temporarily.
China has been engaged in what U.S. officials have called military coercion of Taiwan since early August to protest the visit to the island by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other U.S. legislators and officials.
Military analysts said the dispatch of the Japanese vessels to the Taiwan Strait is a positive sign.
Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, which has overall authority of the coast guard, traditionally has been controlled by Japan’s pro-China Komeito Party since 2012. The party has prevented the Japanese coast guard from taking any high-profile actions near the Senkakus or the Taiwan Strait over the past decade to avoid upsetting the Chinese.
Japan’s 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters confirmed to NHK that three of its patrol ships were in the Taiwan Strait, along with patrol boats from other regional districts. Once the typhoon passes, the ships are expected to evacuate the strait and the headquarters noted that the transit by the ships did not impact the security of the Senkaku Islands.
China is claiming that it owns the Senkakus and its ships have confronted Japanese ships near the islands in the past.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said China is continuing warship and warplane operations around the self-governed island democracy.
Five People’s Liberation Army warships and 12 PLA aircraft were detected around the island on Wednesday. Three of the aircraft crossed the median line down the middle of the Taiwan Strait that is an unofficial dividing line between the mainland and Taiwan.
Taiwanese interceptor aircraft were deployed along with naval vessels and land-based missile defense systems in response, the ministry tweeted.
— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.