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Chinese and Russian vessels jointly pass through Tsugaru Strait in display of military cooperation

  • October 22, 2021
  • , Sankei , p. 3
  • JMH Translation
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By Mitsuzuka Shohei (Beijing) and Onoda Yuichi (Moscow)

 

A total of 10 Chinese and Russian navy vessels passed through the Tsugaru Strait on Oct. 18. Although the vessels did not intrude into Japan’s territorial waters and the passage was not a violation of international law, it was the first time that Chinese and Russian ships sailed through the strait at the same time. The two navies had been conducting joint exercises in the Sea of Japan immediately before the passage. The aim of the two countries’ joint navigation through the Tsugaru Strait is seen to be to display their military cooperation to the global community, and to keep in check the U.S. and Japan, a U.S. ally. The two countries are in conflict with the U.S. 

 

Prior to the passage, the Russian Pacific Fleet and the Chinese PLA Navy conducted “Naval Interaction 2021,” a joint military exercise in the Sea of Japan from Oct. 14-17. The exercise has been held almost every year since 2012, but was postponed in 2020. This year, China introduced the new Renhai-class destroyer “Nanchang,” which was commissioned in 2020, in the exercise. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that a U.S. vessel interfered with the exercise, and released an announcement on Oct. 15 that it had “blocked attempts by a U.S. destroyer to invade territorial waters in the Sea of Japan.” The U.S. has denied the claim.

 

The Global Times, a paper affiliated with the People’s Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, reported in its Oct. 19 online edition that China and Russia’s  joint passage through the Tsugaru Strait was their first joint “maritime patrol.” The article also printed a military expert’s comment that the passage “is a strict warning to countries outside the region as well as neighboring countries.” In an interview with Sankei Shimbun, a Chinese think tank researcher explained that the passage “is a response to the repeated U.S. passage through the Taiwan Strait and the increasing pressure on China from Japan and other countries.”

 

China has criticized the passage of U.S. and other countries’ vessels through the Taiwan Strait. When asked about the relationship of [the Tsugaru Strait passage and the Taiwan Strait passage] at a press conference on Oct. 19, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin claimed, “The global community knows who makes military threats under the guise of ‘freedom of navigation’ and destroys the region’s peace and stability.”

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interview by an American television network aired on Oct. 14. In the interview, Putin criticized the creation of “AUKUS,” a new security framework among the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, saying that AUKUS will “harm regional stability.” Putin’s comments were aligned with China, which opposes AUKUS, and were in concert with China in containing the U.S.

 

China and Russia’s joint military exercises, which centered around the army, have been held every one or two years since 2005. Joint naval exercises began in 2012. Chinese troops participated in annual exercises organized by one of four Russian military districts from 2018 to 2020. Russia dispatched troops to Chinese army’s “Sibu/Cooperation-2021” exercise in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in August 2021, with the Afghan situation in mind. In 2019 and 2020, Chinese and Russian bombers jointly flew over the Sea of Japan. A Russian military aircraft invaded the Japanese territorial airspace around Takeshima (Okinoshima Town, Shimane Prefecture) in 2019.

 

Yamazoe Hiroshi, senior researcher at the National Institute for Defense Studies, comments that [China and Russia’s military relationship] “has a more political nature rather than an aim to strengthen military capabilities.” Yamazoe said, “[China and Russia] will continue to stage actions that appear as though they are strengthening relations” but also said that “such actions do have a certain military impact and should not be underestimated.”

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