China-Russia military ties to enhance amid Chinese defense chief’s visit to Moscow, ‘key to world peace, containing and deterring hegemony’

Yang ShengLiu Xuanzun, Global Times, Apr 17, 2023 —
The ongoing visit of Chinese defense chief Li Shangfu to Russia received high standard reception and also drew great attention globally, as Western media try to connect the China-Russia military ties with the ongoing Ukraine crisis, with Chinese analysts saying on Monday the strategic partnership between the two countries has no ill intention or conspiracy to hide and will never target any third party.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has paid a state visit to Russia in March, and in a joint statement signed by the two countries during this major diplomatic activity, the two sides pointed out that China-Russia relations are not the kind of military-political alliance seen during the Cold War, but transcend such a model of state-to-state relations and have the nature of no-alliance, no-confrontation and don’t targeting any third party.

Therefore, all kinds of cooperation, including military ones, between the two countries, such as joint military drills and other normal cooperation for national defense, will not harm any other country’s national security, so the China-Russia high-level military cooperation doesn’t contradict China’s neutral and responsible stance for a political solution of the Ukraine crisis, said experts.

Analysts also stressed that China-Russia military cooperation not only serves the mutual interests but is also significant in boosting multi-polarization of the world order to contain and deter hegemony.

Special and high-level

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Li in Kremlin in Moscow on Sunday, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday. Li is paying an official visit to Russia from April 16 to 19 at the invitation of his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu.
Putin said at the meeting with Li that military cooperation plays an important role in Russia-China relations, and he hopes that the two militaries will strengthen cooperation in joint training, professional exchanges and other fields, and that the strategic mutual trust between the two countries will continue to be deepened.

Li said that the two heads of state steer the development of China-Russia relations and the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era has been continuously deepened. The military mutual trust between the two countries has been increasingly consolidated with substantial progress in cooperation.

China is willing to work with Russia to fully implement the consensus reached by the two heads of state, further strengthen the strategic communication between the two militaries and bolster multilateral coordination and cooperation so as to make new contributions to safeguarding global and regional security and stability, said the Chinese defense minister.

According to the media, during the meeting with Putin, Li said that he specifically came to Russia for his first foreign visit after assuming the post of defense minister to tell the world the high-level and special nature of the China-Russia relations.

The meeting in the Kremlin was also attended by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Li and Shoigu are scheduled to discuss “the current state and prospects for the development of bilateral cooperation in the defense sphere, as well as current issues of global and regional security,” according to TASS.

Cooperation for peace

Zhang Hong, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European, and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday that “the China-Russia military cooperation is a long-standing tradition, and the two countries have annual routine joint military exercises and many other military and security cooperation. These existed long before the Ukraine crisis.”

If this normal and legitimate cooperation had been affected by the Ukraine crisis or pressure from the US, then it would be strange, so the visit of Li to Russia is sending a signal to the world that China-Russia military ties have no conspiracy or ill intention to hide, and the two militaries will keep on cooperating in the future for world peace and mutual interests, Zhang said.

Although there are some voices from the West trying to misinterpret the China-Russia military cooperation to undermine China’s neutral position on the Ukraine crisis, Reuters reported on Monday that NATO and the US say they have seen no signs yet that China is supplying arms to Russia.

US officials and some Western media have failed to prove their conspiracy theory or groundless hypothesis of “China supporting Russia with lethal weapons to fight Ukraine” with any hard evidence, and the reason why they keep doing so is to undermine China’s reputation, reliability and creditability to mediate the Ukraine crisis, experts said.

Washington is very anxious as it can’t find an effective way to stop China from promoting peace, which makes the US look increasingly embarrassing as more and more countries see the fact that Washington is the one who adds fuel to the fire, experts noted.

Li was sanctioned by the US for purchasing Russian weapons for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) when he was in charge of China’s Equipment Development Department of the Central Military Commission. The administration of then US President Donald Trump sanctioned Li and the department in 2018 for purchasing Russian weapons, including Su-35 combat aircraft and S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.

Chinese analysts said Li’s visit to Russia is also a signal jointly sent by China and Russia to the US that their cooperation, including the military ones, will not be impacted by the US pressure.

Military cooperation

China and Russia will regularly organize maritime, aerial joint patrols and joint exercises, enhance all kinds of exchanges and cooperation between the two militaries including those under current bilateral mechanisms, and further deepen military mutual trust, reads the Joint Statement of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on Deepening the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination for the New Era signed by Xi and Putin during Xi’s visit to Russia in March.

China and Russia have already been holding such joint patrols and joint exercises over recent years, with the two countries’ armies, navies and air forces joining each other in naval patrols in the Pacific Ocean, aerial patrols in the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the Joint Sea series naval exercises and the strategic military drills like Vostok-2022 in Russia and Zapad/Interaction-2021 in China.

The scope, scale and frequency of such joint patrols and joint exercises are expected to continue to expand, observers said.

Song Zhongping, a Chinese military and TV commentator, told the Global Times that joint drills between China and Russia contribute to safeguarding regional peace and stability. There could also be military technological cooperation, Song said.

In terms of such defense cooperation, Putin announced in October 2019 that Russia was helping China to create an early missile warning system that would drastically enhance the defensive capacity of China, Russian news agency TASS reported at the time.

Russia is more experienced in developing and operating such a system than China because of the high nuclear threats the Soviet Union had faced from the US during the Cold War. Such a system would identify and send warnings immediately after intercontinental ballistic missiles are launched, observers said.

Cui Heng, an assistant research fellow from the Center for Russian Studies of East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Monday that China and Russia are two major powers, and also nuclear-armed powers, and the close coordination and cooperation between these two countries should be seen as a positive signal that will contribute to world peace.

China and Russia have powerful military strengths and significant strategic influence globally, and they are the key powers to contain and deter hegemony, and to safeguard peace and stability in many regions with strategic significance which are under threats caused by external forces, said experts.

This is why countries like South Africa and Iran had joint maritime exercises with Chinese and Russian navies in February and March despite pressure from the US and the West, and Central Asian countries also have mechanism of joint military exercises with China and Russia for countering terrorism, separatism and religious extremism in the region, experts said.

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