Russia ran the "Vostok-2018" strategic military exercise from September 11 to 17 and Chinese military’s participation has helped it catch wide attention. As military cooperation has always been a sensitive aspect in bilateral relations, the deepening China-Russian military cooperation has shown the world closer relations between the two countries.
According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the "Vostok-2018" strategic military exercise is "unprecedented" in its scale. It is also the first foreign military exercise that China has sent the largest group of troops to attend.
"This is the first large-scale cross-border joint military exercise for Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA). It is a test for the PLA's capability to carry out long range delivery, conduct operations in unfamiliar regions and seasons, and ensure the adaptation of weapons and equipment to the new environment. Judging from current observations, the PLA has demonstrated refreshing presence and capabilities." Jiang Yi, a research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European & Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said in an interview.
China played a critical role in this military exercise. In the light of the consensus reached by China and Russia, the PLA actively participated in the Russian strategic military exercise in three aspects: strategic background conception and exercise direction, battle command, and exercise with real troops.
As a report on the website of The Wall Street Journal noted, the "Vostok-2018" strategic military exercise, conducted in Russia’s Far East region close to the Chinese border, intends to show that China and Russia have developed beyond symbolic demonstration of their forces and have reached the stage of weapon system and command structure coordination.
The "Vostok-2018" strategic military exercise, as one of the four strategic exercises of the Russian military, represents an essential part in the country’s military exercise system. "This is the first time that Russia has invited the Chinese military to participate in its annual strategic exercise, usually reserved to the most intimate allies of Russia," an article on the website of The Washington Post noted. This undoubtedly marks the fact that the mutual military trust and military cooperation between China and Russia have both reached a new height.
Deepened military cooperation
For more than a decade, China and Russia have deepened military cooperation, as the two sides have increased the frequency, scale, and participating arms and services of military exercises. China-Russia joint military exercises have increased from once in several years and once a year to several times a year, from single service participation to multiple services participation. At present, the joint military exercises between China and Russia have become more regular," said Jiang Yi.
Indeed,the "Vostok-2018" strategic military exercise is only one aspect of the military cooperation between China and Russia. Just last month, China and Russia participated in the "PeaceMission-2018" joint anti-terrorism military exercise of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization（SCO）member states in Russia’s Chelyabinsk. Moreover, in recent years, China and Russia have maintained the regular "Joint Sea" series of exercises and the Aerospace Security series ofChinese-Russian anti-ballistic missile defense computer-simulated command post exercises.
The National Interest magazine in the US recently published an article titled "Russia and China’s Growing Military Interaction; Surprised?", in which it was pointed out thatwhile Chinese-Russian military activities have in the past been mostly symbolic and representational, they appear increasingly interactive. Dating back to 2005, Russia and China have exercised modest forces together in a mostly “counterterrorist” role in Central Asia and in Russia as part of the Chinese-driven Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Today, the "Vostok-2018" strategic military exercise sees the participation of the largest scale of Chinese military in history. Moreover, the subject of the exercise has expanded from the previous joint anti-terrorism to the traditional security subject of organizing joint defense and counterattack. Compared with the previous "Peace Mission" exercises, the "Vostok-2018" strategic military exercise features a higher level, a larger scale, more completed elements, andcloser cooperation.
The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post reported that both China and Russia are now advancing military reform and military modernization in full swing. The deepened mutual military trust between China and Russia provides China with valuable resources in that China will have access to Russia’s military technology and directly learn from its experience in Syria and Ukraine.
Stern, a weekly news magazine published in Germany, believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes to show Russia’s military strength through exercises with Chinese People's Liberation Army.
Gao Fei, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU), also pointed out that Russia enjoys comparative advantage in military. Russia wants to show its presence, sothe"Vostok-2018" exercise is designed to be large-scale with strong visual and conscious impact with the purpose to demonstrate the country’s will to resist and its strong determination.
Deeper relations and warmer friendship
"Military exchanges are most sensitive in bilateral relations. Without close bilateral relations, there is no possibility of deepening military cooperation," said Jiang Yi.
At present, the continuous development of China-Russia military relations is a natural result of the deeper political and economic relations between the two countries. As RIA Novosti pointed out, the strategic partnership between China and Russia is increasingly being put into practice.
The "Vostok-2018" strategic military exercise has showed the world warmer friendship between China and Russia. The US Newsweek quoted analysts saying that this military exercise shows the increasingly close relationship between Russia and China rather than Russia's own military strength.
Brian Taylor, a US-Russian political relations expert at Syracuse University, said that "Russia holds large-scale military exercises at this time every year. What is more worthy of attention is that China participates in these exercises for the first time this year, which is symbolic and reflects deepening relations between China and Russia."
Gao Fei said, "China and Russia are comprehensive strategic cooperative partners and the two share consensus and cooperation on many issues. Moreover, China and Russia send a signal of solidarity to the outside world through cooperation, which in itself increases certainty in a changing world."
However, as the Senior Colonel Wu Qian, Spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense, said, "Vostok-2018" strategic military exercise aims to consolidate the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership, deepen the pragmatic and friendly cooperation between the two militaries, further enhance the ability of the two militaries to jointly respond to various security threats, and maintain regional peace and security. The exercise is not directed at any third party and has nothing to do with the regional situation.
"The core objectives of China-Russia cooperation are to propel the development of multi-polarization of the world, promote the democratization of international relations, and improve international order. It should be said that China-Russia cooperation has largely embodied the international community’s efforts to construct a new international order and form a new set of rules for international exchanges," said Jiang Yi.