China, Russia to start joint air and sea drill in Sea of Japan

By Yew Lun Tian

BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese naval flotilla set off on Sunday to join Russian naval and air forces in the Sea of Japan in an exercise aimed at “safeguarding the security of strategic waterways”, according to China’s defence ministry.

Codenamed “Northern/Interaction-2023”, the drill marks enhanced military cooperation between China and Russia since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and is taking place as Beijing continues to rebuff U.S. calls to resume military communication.

The Chinese flotilla comprised of five warships and four ship-borne helicopters, left the eastern port of Qingdao and will rendezvous with Russian forces in a “predetermined area”, the ministry said on its official WeChat account on Sunday.

On Saturday, the ministry said Russian naval and air forces would participate in the drill taking place in the Sea of Japan.

This would be the first time both Russian forces take part in the drill, state newspaper Global Times cited military observers as saying.

Gromkiy and Sovershenniy, two Russian warships taking part in the Sea of Japan drill, had earlier this month conducted separate training with the Chinese navy in Shanghai on formation movements, communication and sea rescues.

Before making port at the financial hub of Shanghai, the same ships had sailed passed Taiwan and Japan, prompting both Taipei and Tokyo to monitor the Russian warships.

Days before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping declared a “no limits” partnership they said was aimed at countering the influence of the United States.

One notable area of the partnership is military cooperation.

When China’s Defence Minister Li Shangfu met with the head of the Russian navy, Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, in Beijing this month, both sides reiterated pledges to strengthen military ties.

Chinese military Chief of Joint Staff Liu Zhenli and Russia’s top soldier, Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov made the same pledge during a video call in June.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Jamie Freed)