Chinese troops will travel to Russia to take part in joint military exercises led by the host and including India, Belarus, Mongolia, Tajikistan and other countries, China’s defence ministry said on Wednesday.
China’s participation in the joint exercises was ‘unrelated to the current international and regional situation’, the ministry said in a statement.
Last month, Moscow announced plans to hold ‘Vostok’ (East) exercises from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, even as it wages a costly war in Ukraine.
It said at the time that some foreign forces would participate, without naming them.
Its last such exercises took place in 2018, when China took part for the first time.
China’s defence ministry said its participation in the exercises was part of an ongoing bilateral annual cooperation agreement with Russia.
‘The aim is to deepen practical and friendly cooperation with the armies of participating countries, enhance the level of strategic collaboration among the participating parties, and strengthen the ability to respond to various security threats,’ the statement said.
Russia’s eastern military district includes part of Siberia and has its headquarters in Khabarovsk, near the Chinese border.
They appear intended to send a message that Russia, despite the costly five-month war in Ukraine, remains focused on the defence of its entire territory and capable in military terms of sustaining ‘business as usual’.
But that may be a challenge given Moscow’s heavy losses in men and equipment in Ukraine – including troops and hardware sent there from the eastern military district where the war games will take place.
‘A lot of troops and gear from the eastern MD (military district) have already been deployed, rotated, lost and killed in Ukraine since February, so this will be interesting to see what they can salvage,’ said Mathieu Boulegue, a military specialist at London’s Chatham House think-tank.
In a statement, the defence ministry emphasised that its capacity to stage such drills was unaffected by what it calls its ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine.
It said Russia had not cancelled any training activities or international cooperation, and the exercises would be supplied with all necessary personnel, weapons and equipment.
The two superpowers of China and Russia have regularly taken part in joint military exercises as they turn away from the West.
The military cooperation has aroused suspicion but the two nations claim they have no intention to target a third country.
Meanwhile, Taiwan is staging military exercises to show its ability to resist Chinese pressure to accept Beijing´s political control over the self-governing island, following new rounds of threatening drills from China.
The exercises Wednesday off the southeastern county of Hualien follow days of Chinese missile firings and incursions into Taiwan’s sea and airspace by ships and planes from the People´s Liberation Army, the military wing of China´s ruling Communist Party.
‘Communist China´s military operations just provide us with the opportunity for combat-readiness training,’ said .
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou said China was using recent visits by US Congress members including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a pretext for escalating its attempts to intimidate Taiwan into accepting what it calls its terms for ‘peaceful reunification.’
‘China launched military provocations on these grounds. This is absurd and a barbaric act, which also undermines regional stability and interferes with shipping and commercial activities in the Indo-Pacific region,’ Ou said.
China growing assertiveness towards the island it claims as its own, combined with Russia’s invasion, have renewed debate about how to boost defence and prompted NATO to step up preparations in the event of a Chinese attack.
Beijing considers Taiwan to be part of its territory and has never renounced using force to bring the island under its control.
Taiwan rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims and vows to defend its freedom and democracy.