Russia/China: Beijing Announces Joint Military Exercises With Russia
By Daisy Sindelar
The government in Beijing says China and Russia will hold their first-ever joint military exercises in 2005. Moscow has long been the major arms supplier to its massive eastern neighbor. The announcement could signal that the former Cold War rivals are now seeking closer ties in order to act as a counterbalance to U.S. dominance. But one military analyst says the exercises will be more show than substance.
Prague, 14 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- China's defense minister says closer ties between Moscow and Beijing are aimed at preserving regional and global stability.
Cao Gangchuan said increasing military and technical cooperation between the two former rivals should not be perceived as a threat by any outside countries.
The official China News Service said the exercises will take place sometime in 2005, on Chinese territory. But few other details have emerged.
Independent Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said he believes little will come of the project.
"It's not clear what the scale of these Russian-Chinese exercises will be," Felgenhauer said. "But I suspect it will be extremely limited in scale, and more of a symbolic project than a military one with any serious meaning or serious consequences."
In the past, it was Moscow and Washington who appeared to be firm allies, particularly over the issue of terrorism -- which both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush were quick to identify as a global, rather than local, problem.
Since then, however, ties have appeared to cool, most noticeably over Iraq.
Felgenhauer said yesterday's announcement -- which came during a visit to Beijing by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov -- might be a simple way for Russia to show it has allies elsewhere.
"I think the exercises that have been announced are a demonstration by Russia to the West -- America -- that we have friends in the East and that there's a possibility that we're going to start working with them more closely," Felgenhauer said.
China is the Russian arms industry's top customer. It is said to be in the process of spending some $2 billion on weapons this year to update its arsenal.
Russia's second-biggest arms buyer is another massive regional neighbor: India.
Putin evoked the notion of a China-Russia-India union during a recent trip to New Delhi.
But Felgenhauer dismissed the idea of such an accord. Each country has its own specific geopolitical concerns -- China has Taiwan, Russia has Ukraine, and India has Pakistan and Kashmir.
There is little likelihood, Felgenhauer said, that all three countries will unite for the sake of any one of those causes. And there are more reasons to believe such a venture would fail.
"A union like that isn't very likely," Felgenhauer said. "Individually, of course, these countries [are not very strong] -- especially Russia, whose economic potential is a tiny percentage of the economic potential of the West. There isn't any realistic possibility of becoming a major superpower on a world scale. Even to maintain [Russia's] current status will be hard, given the kind of weak economy and weak military that we have now."
The joint Chinese-Russian military exercises might not have the "far-reaching" impact that the country's defense ministers predict. But even so, it remains clear that ties between Beijing and Moscow are growing stronger.
The two capitals have signed a pact that will send more of Russia's oil and gas east to energy-hungry China. They have also resolved the last of their decades-old border disputes, turning a heavily guarded frontier into a busy cross-border market.
Putin, upon signing the border agreement in Beijing in October, said relations between the two countries had reached "unparalleled heights."
Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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