Russia and China hold joint military drills

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Chinese commanding officer (left) presents flowers to Russian commanding officer

RUSSIA and China have wrapped up their five-day joint strategic military drills in Northwest China which involved over 10,000 troops and advanced weaponry.

Top officials in both countries vowed further collaborations amid rising US-led provocations in eastern Europe and the Pacific.

The last day of the drills – dubbed Zapad/Interaction-2021 – on Friday began with live-fire exercises imitating an anti-terrorism operations featuring advanced Chinese J-20 stealth fighter jets and JH-7 bombers which conducted an air raid against hostile frontline command centres and air defence observation outposts, China Central Television (CCTV) reported.

During the exercise, the Chinese and Russian troops also used a specially designed joint command system for the first time, which interconnected both sides’ combat systems, enabling teleconferences and allowing the transfer of combat documents, thus significantly boosting systematic combat efficiency.

Praising the joint military manoeuvers, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu – who had flown to China to observe the air, sea, and ground exercises personally – suggested that the drills, which saw Russian forces using Chinese weaponry for the first time, could further develop cooperation between Beijing and Moscow.

‘We have achieved a high level of interaction between our armed forces on land, in the air and at sea,’ Shoigu emphasised in a statement released by the Russian Defence Ministry.

‘This increase is an important trend towards further activity.’

Echoing Shoigu’s remarks, China’s prominent Global Times daily cited Chinese experts as describing relations between Moscow and Beijing as ‘better than allies,’ insisting that the two military powers ‘are capable of jointly tackling regional security issues including terrorism as well as global challenges brought up by countries like the US.’

Although Russia and China have carried out joint exercises since 2005, the Russian defence chief pointed out that these latest manoeuvers mark the first time the Russian military has taken part in an event of this kind in China.

Chinese State Councillor and Defence Minister Wei Fenghe also joined Shoigu in inspecting last Friday’s live-fire drills, which were followed by talks between the two counterparts and the signing of related cooperation documents, according to a press release issued by China’s Defence Ministry.

Senior People’s Liberation Army Colonel Li Shuyin – an expert at the PLA Academy of Military Sciences who also observed the joint exercises – said: ‘Some countries, particularly the US, have been attempting to suppress China and Russia.’

Pointing to reported speculations that the China-Russia joint drills were also aimed at countering the US, Li added: ‘If such speculations come from the US, they must be trying to shift the blame from themselves to China and Russia; if they come from third parties, this means people understand that it is the US that threatens global military security.’

He said none of the wars waged by Washington over the past years have protected regional security and stability. He added the US itself has made the situation worse, citing the withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan after a 20-year military occupation as a prime example.

The development came a week after Russia announced plans to hold two consecutive military drills with Chinese and Belarusian forces across its eastern and western borders involving tens of thousands of troops amid persisting provocations by US and NATO military forces.

Also last week, prior to the Taliban victory, Russia concluded joint military drills in Tajikistan with Uzbek and Tajik forces near the border with Afghanistan, where the the Taliban was making rapid advances – following the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces – which, according to Russian press statements, ‘have generated a global security challenge’.

Separate Russian military manoeuvers with Indian forces in the Russian city of Volgograd – involving nearly 500 soldiers – also ended last Thursday, according to local press reports.

China remains Russia’s largest trade partner. Russian Railways announced this week that the first railway bridge between Russia and China, over the Amur River, would open soon, marking a further boost for bilateral trade.

• Tensions have flared up between Japan and the two Koreas on the anniversary of the end of World War II after two Japanese ministers paid a visit to a controversial shrine in Tokyo, seen as a symbol of Japan’s wartime legacy in East Asia.

Both Seoul and Pyongyang, along with China, reacted to the visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi and Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.

The site, which enshrines senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes, remains a flashpoint for tensions with China as well as North and South Korea.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga did not visit the site, but sent offerings.

South Korea expressed ‘deep disappointment and regret,’ while the North demanded apologies.

The South Korean foreign ministry spokesman, Choi Young-sam, said Seoul ‘urges responsible people in Japan to show with action their humble soul-searching and genuine reflection on history.’

He said that only ‘based on such an attitude, will Japan be able to build future-oriented relations with South Korea and gain trust from other neighbours.’

The Foreign Ministry also summoned Naoki Kumagai, deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, to lodge a protest over the visit to the shrine.

The South’s Defence Ministry had earlier expressed its ‘deep concerns and regrets’ over the visit.

An organisation in North Korea called for Japan’s apology and atonement for its wrongdoings and atrocities committed during its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The Korean Committee on Measures for the Sexual Slavery for Japanese Army and Drafting Victims said in a statement that: ‘Nothing can relieve their grievance.

‘Far from making apology and repentance of the crimes against humanity committed by the Japanese imperialists, Japan has adopted a mean hostile policy toward the DPRK,’ it said, using the acronym of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

China also reacted to the move, with defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian saying Beijing was ‘strongly dissatisfied’ with the visit.

The move ‘reflects once again that the Japanese side has displayed the wrong attitude towards its wartime aggression and its sinister intentions of challenging post-war international world order,’ he added.

Meanwhile in Japan while he was attending a memorial ceremony on Sunday to mark the 76th anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of WWII, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed that his country would never wage war again.

Suga, however, fell short of apologising for his country’s past aggression against Japan’s neighbours, especially Korea.

‘We will commit to our pledge to never repeat the tragedy of the war,’ he said at the memorial ceremony. ‘We will continue to remain committed to this conviction.’

Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his government has left the door open for talks with Japan.

Addressing an event to mark the war-end anniversary last Sunday, Moon said Japan and South Korea should work together to ‘surmount difficulties’ and foster cooperation based on shared values of democracy and market economy.

‘Our government has always kept the door open for dialogue to jointly respond not only to our two countries’ pending issues but also threats facing the world, including Covid-19 and the climate crisis,’ Moon said.

Historical rows have long frayed bilateral ties between Tokyo and Seoul.