Why Russian and Chinese warships are teaming up to surround Japan is a big deal

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But analysts say the exercises will likely have the opposite effect, potentially rekindling regional tensions and reinforcing claims by the Japanese government that it must increase military spending to counter Chinese aggression.

The trip, billed as the first joint Sino-Russian naval patrol in the western Pacific, saw ships pass through the Tsugaru Strait that separates the main island of Japan and its northern island of Hokkaido, before descending the eastern coast of Japan. country, then back to China. across the Osumi Strait off the island of Kyushu in southern Japan.

Although foreign ships are allowed to pass through the Straits of Osumi and Tsugaru, both considered international waters, maneuvers were closely monitored in Japan.

“This will strengthen the conclusion that Japan has already drawn that China potentially poses a threat to Japan and therefore needs to increase its own defense spending and preparedness to deal with it,” said Drew Thompson, a former official. from the US Department of Defense and a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

In a statement issued on Monday, Japan’s defense ministry called the exercises, which took place throughout the past week, “unusual”.

The China-Russia flotilla consisted of five warships from each country, with a mix of destroyers, frigates, corvettes and support ships.

The Chinese military said the two navies separated in the East China Sea on Saturday. “The joint exercise and the joint cruise further developed the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era and effectively enhanced the joint operations capabilities of the two sides, which was conducive to the joint maintenance of international strategic stability and regional, ”he added. Bai Yaoping of the North Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army and the deputy commander of the Navy said in a statement.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the purpose of the joint patrol was to “demonstrate the flags of the states of Russia and China, maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and also protect the facilities of maritime economic activity of the two countries “.

Japan’s military strengthening

Tensions between China and Japan have increased in recent years, amid moves by Beijing to assert sovereignty over the Japanese-controlled islands.

China has also stepped up military pressure on neighboring Taiwan, sending dozens of warplanes near the island. Japanese officials previously linked the security situation in Taiwan to Japan, noting that 90% of Japanese energy is imported via regions around Taiwan.

Although Japanese military spending is paltry compared to China, it has decided to significantly strengthen its defenses, adding state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jets and converting warships into aircraft carriers for them.

It is also in the process of adding high-tech destroyers and submarines, all of which can project its power far from the shores of Japan.

The scope of the Japanese Self-Defense Force was clear on Monday, as one of the warships that will eventually be equipped to carry F-35s – the helicopter destroyer JS Kaga – conducted bilateral exercises with a group of attack by US Navy aircraft carriers in the South. China Sea, which China claims almost entirely as its sovereign territory.

And over the summer, the Japanese naval forces trained with their counterparts from the British Carrier Strike Group 21, led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, as well as with US Navy ships in the Pacific.

Beijing has kept a close eye on these events, and the Russian joint flotilla is a sign that China has partners as well, said Alessio Patalano, professor of war and strategy at King’s College London.

“This summer, the US navies and partners significantly raised the level of interoperability in the western Pacific,” he said.

Russia and China have an ongoing military partnership and have conducted a series of joint exercises, the most publicized of which was “Vostok 2018,” a mock battle in which a Russian-Chinese coalition fought a fictitious enemy.

And in August, Russia and China again joined forces to use a joint command and control system, with Russian troops integrated into Chinese formations, according to a statement from the then Chinese Defense Ministry.

China’s “hypocrisy”

The route taken by the joint China-Russia patrol, through the Osumi Strait at the end of their journey, as well as through the narrow Tsugaru Strait between the main islands of Honshu and Hokkaido earlier in the week, has also attracted a considerable amount of attention.

Indeed, when the US Navy or foreign navies pass through the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, Beijing condemns them as destabilizing.

For example, after US and Canadian warships crossed the Taiwan Strait earlier this month, the Chinese Army’s Eastern Theater Command accused the two sides of colluding to “stir up trouble” and ” seriously endanger peace and stability ”in the Strait.

And at 100 miles (160 kilometers) wide at its narrowest point, the Taiwan Strait is huge compared to the passages between the Japanese islands. Osumi Strait, for example, is only 27 kilometers wide at its narrowest point.

While Chinese and Russian warships did not violate international law, a report broadcast on Chinese state television showed how close they came to Japanese territory.

A reporter apparently aboard one of the Chinese ships crosses the Tsugaru Strait as the Japanese coast looms behind her.

Later, after crossing the strait, the reporter said, “We are now in the Western Pacific, and we can see the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force planes not far from us. They’ve been following us since the start of our patrol. In addition to the plane, they also sent several ships to undergo our training for intelligence gathering. “

Thompson said China cannot espouse one thing and then act the opposite way.

“Either you support the standards or you support the politics of power,” he said of Beijing’s leaders. “It makes their virulent anti-foreign rhetoric extremely hypocritical.”

So if it’s good for China and Russia, it must be good for the United States, Canada, and the other navies that navigate the Taiwan Strait – or even the South China Sea.

“They establish that this is a very accepted international standard,” said Thompson.

CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Nectar Gan, Emiko Jozuka, Mayumi Maruyama and Yong Xiong contributed to this report.


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