China and Russia have begun joint naval exercises in the South China Sea, set to involve “live-fire drills, sea crossing and island landing operations, and island defense and offense exercises,” according to a Chinese navy spokesperson quoted by CNN.
The spokesman added that Chinese and Russian “surface ships, submarines, planes, helicopters and amphibious armored equipment” would be involved in the exercise as well.
Among Russia’s contributions to the exercise are the 7,500-ton Udaloy-class destroyer and 4,000-ton Ropucha-class landing ship, which can deploy two dozen armored vehicles directly onto a contested beach, of which several can be found in the South China Sea.
The Times of India predicts the 2016 version of these drills, which have been an annual event for the past five years, will “spark further fears over China’s expansionist claims in the region, given that the official brief for the drill includes ‘island seizing missions.'”
Indeed, the Times of India quotes the same spokesperson referenced by CNN explicitly stating that Chinese and Russian forces would practice “defense, rescue, and anti-submarine operations, in addition to joint-island seizing missions and other activities.”
China described these exercises as “deeper and more extensive in terms of organisation, tasks and command,” according to al-Jazeera.
TOI notes that, not only are Asian nations with territorial claims in the South China Sea worried they could find themselves on the business end of those carefully-rehearsed Sino-Russian island-seizing missions, but the United States is currently experiencing tense relations with both China and Russia and has been seeking to increase its own naval presence in the region.
Al-Jazeera relays Chinese promises that the exercises would be held off the Guangdong coast of China, “apparently in waters that are not in dispute.”
However, during his visit to China in August, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Scott Swift said there are “other places those exercises could have been conducted” and complained China and Russia are “not increasing the stability within the region” by holding their joint drill.
China’s state-run news agency Xinhua shot back that those who see the exercise as a threat are either “ill-informed” or “misled by their prejudice about China and Russia.”
“A logical guess is that, for those who have bought the sensational claim regarding the drill, they probably only see words like ‘island seizing’ and ‘South Sea Fleet’ and start to imagine a war in the South China Sea,” Xinhua added.