For the first time since the start of the Chinese-originated coronavirus pandemic, the People’s Liberation Army has initiated joint military training exercises with the closest thing China has to a major ally — Russia.
Of course, China has shown up at training exercises held by the U.S., U.K., and Australia to take a gander at — and gather critical intelligence from — the proceedings as tensions between East and West continue to rise over the disputed territories in the South China Sea that the aspiring global power firmly insists is its own.
Now, China is training with Russia in one of its far-west provinces, indicating the Chinese Communist Party may be gearing up to involve itself on the other end of its substantial territory; namely, in Afghanistan, where the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops has given the Taliban ample room to expand its violent control over the war-torn region.
The exercises began on Monday in China’s northwestern Ningxia province, where the arid climate and high plateaus are similar to that of Central Asia, as The Wall Street Journal reported. This signals that China is quite likely preparing for combat on foreign soil rather than its own.
Ningxia also shares a small part of its border with Afghanistan, so the Chinese are very close to the theater where they could soon be anticipating an engagement in combat.
According to The Associated Press, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that the exercises are intended to “deepen the joint anti-terrorism operations between the Chinese and Russian militaries and demonstrate the firm determination and strength of the two countries to jointly safeguard international and regional security and stability.”
The respective militaries are training with many of the PLA’s newly developed stealth fighters and jet fighters as well as unmanned combat vehicles, according to Chinese state media, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“The drills had two stages to focus on both joint command planning and land attack operations, according to the Chinese side,” the newspaper explained. “In other drills, troops descended via ropes from transport helicopters, conducted large-scale parachute landings and carried out long-range precision strikes.”
While Russia has historically played a major role in Central Asian stability, Beijing has been working to bolster diplomatic relations with nations surrounding Afghanistan and even held a high-profile meeting with the Taliban as Western-led attempts to hold peace talks between the terror group and the Afghani government have been unsuccessful.
The Taliban have now seized several provincial capitals in Afghanistan, targeting and killing government officials while insisting that the global community has nothing to fear should they manage to seize control of the whole nation.
The military exercises in Ningxia would have been planned long before the Taliban’s recent territorial seizure, as the Jounal noted, but were certainly aimed at responding to such instability in the region, which China certainly has an interest in quelling.
“China’s number one security priority in Afghanistan and central Asia is preventing it from being a recruiting and training ground for the East Turkestan [Islamic] Movement,” Drew Thompson, a former U.S. Defense Department official and visiting fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, told the Journal, in a reference to ties between militant Uyghur Muslims and the Taliban.
“China and Russia’s desire to work together on the same objectives are the perfect rationale for holding such a ground-based exercise,” Thompson said, according to the Journal.
Ningxia is close to China’s Xinjiang province, where the Communist Chinese Party is carrying out systematic genocide against the ethnic Uyghurs. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement’s link to the Taliban is now rather at odds with the mutual interests of Beijing and the Taliban to cultivate a friendlier relationship.
The Chinese certainly seem interested in keeping their friends close…and their enemies closer. Yet, since the country is bent on global domination, it regards everyone as a potential enemy.
The consensus seems clear that this is the motivation behind its recent closer ties with Russia despite the latter’s well-founded concerns over such an alliance, like the potential for Chinese intellectual property theft.
“This relationship is mutually dependent but also transactional,” Thompson told the Journal. “They’re going to work together when it’s in their mutual interest and quietly compete where it suits them.”
China’s defense ministry called the joint exercises indicative of a “new era” of cooperation between the two nations, the AP reported.
In 2018, China became the first nation that Russia had invited outside of several closely tied former Soviet allies to participate in its biggest annual war games in the far easter region of Russia. According to the Journal, that demonstrated that “the two sides were moving beyond symbolic displays of force to coordinate weapons systems and command structures.”
Russia has supported China’s claims to disputed territories in the South China Sea, and in 2019, the first joint patrol by Chinese and Russian bombers close to the Korean Peninsula and Japan prompted South Korean pilots to fire warning shots amid what Seoul described as an intrusion into its airspace.
As the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan, China has very loudly signaled a willingness to pull in. This would be yet another foot in the door for Beijing to achieve the kind of military and economic supremacy it is openly vying for on the world stage, and it makes it all the more concerning that China might have Russia’s backing to do so.
This is, indeed, a new era China and Russia relations — and the stability and security of the whole globe.
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