Top commanders play down significance of major Russian-Chinese military manoeuvres

RUSSIA and China began unprecedented joint military exercises involving air, sea and land forces yesterday, as commanders from both nations insisted the war games weren’t meant to intimidate other countries.

The United States isn’t sending observers to the exercises, which symbolise the bolstered ties between Russia and China since the end of the Cold War, but the US has said it hopes they don’t shake regional stability.

“Our exercises don’t threaten any country,” General Yuri Baluyevsky, the head of the Russian armed forces general staff, told a news conference at Russia’s Pacific Fleet command in the Far East city of Vladivostok.

General Liang Guanglie, chief of the general staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, said the exercises were in accord with UN principles and would serve to boost the countries’ common interests and “protect peace and stability in our region and the whole world.”

He said they took part in the context of the “fight against international terrorism, separatism and extremism”.

Gen Liang denied that the moves to strengthen ties between Beijing and Moscow would lead to some kind of military union or the two countries fighting together against any common foe.

Instead, the generals said the eight days of exercises were a result of the warming ties between the countries on many levels. China and Russia have drawn closer together since the end of the Cold War after decades of estrangement, united in their opposition to US dominance in world affairs.

The exercises, dubbed Peace Mission 2005, started yesterday with strategic consultations between commanders, and will climax next week with an amphibious and paratroop landing on China’s Shandong peninsula in the Yellow Sea. 10,000 troops are involved, mostly Chinese and about 1,800 Russians.

The new commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Gary Roughead, said in an interview that the United States was “very interested” in the exercises.

“We’re very interested in the exercise, we’re interested in the types of things that they’ll do,” Adm Roughead said. “We’re interested in the complexity and the types of systems that they bring to bear.”

Heralding the start of the drills, the Russian and Chinese commanders laid wreaths at a World War II memorial in Vladivostok before a Russian honour guard, and veterans from both countries also placed flowers there.

Experts say the manoeuvres are more of a sales pitch to the Chinese of Russian-made arms - including the country’s long-range strategic bombers.

Analysts have noted the involvement of Russia’s Tu-95 strategic bombers and Tu-22M long-range bombers in the exercises - warplanes that can carry conventional or nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and are not usually part of peacekeeping operations. The aircraft are expected to top China’s shopping list both to deter US assistance to Taiwan in the event of a conflict and project Chinese strength across the region.

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