China’s elite troops head to Russia for massive Vostok 2018 war games

PLA troops will put their combat-readiness to the test in Moscow’s biggest military exercises since the Soviet era

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2018, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2018, 9:41am

The Chinese military will send about 3,200 troops to take part in Russia’s biggest war games in more than 35 years, putting their combat-readiness to the test after a massive overhaul of the People’s Liberation Army.

The troops, equipped with an array of weaponry including 30 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, will participate in the Vostok 2018 exercises in the Tsugol training range in Russia’s Far East Trans-Baikal region later this month, China’s defence ministry said.

The ministry said that the involvement was meant to strengthen cooperation between the two armed forces and improve their ability to deal jointly with security threats.

Military personnel from Mongolia were also invited to take part, the Russian news agency Sputnik said.

Hong Kong-based military expert Song Zhongping said that the Chinese troops were elite forces from the Northern Theatre Command and would be exposed to a range of conditions.

“The Vostok 2018 training will expand from ... areas such as counter-terrorism, anti-piracy and disaster relief missions, to more real combat training and counter-attack drills,” Song said.

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It is unclear how many Russian forces will be involved in the exercises, but Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said this week that the war games would be the biggest drills since 1981, when as many as 150,000 Soviet Army troops were mobilised for exercises.

Beijing-based military observer Zhou Chenming said that the PLA was keen for more exchanges with Russia’s experienced armed forces because Chinese troops had not been in combat since the country’s last war with Vietnam in the late 1970s.

“China also wants to show its support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is facing various diplomatic challenges, especially criticism from the US Secretary of State [Mike Pompeo] over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea,” Zhou said.

He said the site chosen for the war games was deliberate.

“Putin wants to use the Russian military’s war games with the PLA to show its military muscle, but he doesn’t want to irritate the United States too much and raise the possibility of a misjudgment by the Trump administration, so he chose the less sensitive Trans-Baikal region in the Far East, far from US allies in Europe,” Zhou said.

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The Chinese defence ministry said the PLA’s participation in Vostok 2018 was not aimed at a third party.

However, Song said that the war games “will definitely put pressure on the US”, which is stepping up its trade war against China.

“But it doesn’t mean China and Russia have a military alliance. Beijing will still stick to its rule of being a non-aligned country,” Song said.

“The war games just indicate that both Beijing and Moscow feel the need to improve military relations to cope with foreign provocations in the current critical moment.”

However, Macau-based military analyst Antony Wong Dong called the Vostock 2018 exercises a “legacy of a cold war mentality” and said that the PLA’s participation might stir up more hostility between Beijing and Washington.