China’s military learns the art of the counter-attack at Russian war games as US tensions rise

Participation in Vostok 2018 indicative of growing strategic trust and military cooperation between Beijing, Moscow, defence ministry says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018, 9:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2018, 9:37am

China’s participation in Vostok 2018, Russia’s largest military exercise for 37 years, will enhance the counter-attacking capabilities of its armed forces and reinforce ties with its northern neighbour, Beijing said on Tuesday, amid rising tensions with the United States.

The five days of war games got under way on Tuesday at five military training grounds in Russia’s Far East region, and in the waters of the Sea of Japan (or East Sea), the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk

“The focus of the drill has expanded from anti-terrorism to allied defence and counter-attack,” China’s defence ministry said in a statement.

“[It also] signifies that the political strategic trust and military cooperation between China and Russia has reached a historic high.”

About 300,000 Russian troops, 1,000 aircraft and 36,000 military vehicles are taking part in the exercise, which is the biggest in the country since Zapad-81 at the height of the cold war.

China is represented by 3,200 troops, more than 1,000 vehicles, six fixed-wing aircraft and 24 helicopters. The latter comprise six Mi-171s, which were bought from Russia in 2014 and are making their first appearance in such an exercise, nine Z-9s and nine Z-19s.

Vostok 2018: a showcase of Russian military might and ties with China

Vostok 2018 is the largest overseas joint military exercise involving Chinese troops since 2012. Mongolia is also taking part in the drill.

While both Russia and China have said the manoeuvres are not directed against other countries they do coincide with Nato’s Rapid Trident 2018 military exercise in Ukraine, which started on September 3 and ends on Saturday.

Forces from 10 member nations are taking part in the drills amid an ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatists.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said the shift away from anti-terrorism drills to more conventional war games could pave the way for greater cooperation between China and Russia.

The People’s Liberation Army, China’s military, was “still in the process of acquiring combined arms training and expertise as it transformed into an informationised and modern fighting force”, he said.

“It’s more plausible for the PLA to use this primarily to gain valuable insights and expertise in planning and conducting large-scale combined arms manoeuvres,” he said.

Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said Beijing, which regards the defence of its sovereignty over most of the South China Sea and the self-ruled island of Taiwan as core interests, needed to strengthen its capabilities in preparation for possible real-life military conflicts.

“Cooperation in traditional security fields between China and Russia has a very clear target [the United States],” he said. “Beijing and Moscow have to show Washington that they have an unbreakable strategic partnership.”

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Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow and chairman of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific programme at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, agreed.

“The [Vostok 2018] exercise sends a signal to Washington and its allies – if US continues to push [Russia and China], they will have to deepen military ties,” he said.