China and Russia flex their muscles as they join forces to play the war game
London Guardian | August 9, 2005
By Simon Tisdall
When Taiwanese military forces launched a combined operations exercise off Tsoying in the Taiwan Strait last week, it was not hard to guess who the "enemy" was.
Mines and depth charges were detonated in simulated sinkings of invading landing craft and torpedoes were fired at notionally hostile frigates and submarines. The Taipei Times said it was Taiwan's biggest show of force in years.
But China, whose threats to seize the "renegade province" and recent anti-secession law make it the main focus of Taiwan's attentions, is flexing its military muscles, too.
Next week will see far larger war games involving Chinese and Russian troops in and around the Shandong peninsula in the Yellow sea. Regional observers say such military cooperation is unprecedented and could mark the start of something new.
"The China-Russia exercise is intended to send a message to Taiwan," said Andrew Yang of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei. "But it's also a very significant move in terms of the developing relationship between Russia and China and joint efforts to manage regional security.
"China considers it's time to increase strategic cooperation with Russia to balance the US role in the region. Both are interested in demonstrating this is a multipolar rather than a unipolar world," Dr Yang said.
Russia was already China's biggest arms and energy supplier. Bilateral collaboration would progressively deepen not only in the Asia-Pacific area but also in central Asia, he predicted.
The prospect of a revamped Beijing-Moscow "axis" is feeding American paranoia about the challenge to US security and economic interests posed by China's rise.
American fears were illustrated recently by intense (and successful) political opposition to a Chinese bid to buy Unocal, a US oil company; and by the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which was narrowly approved by Congress after the spectre of a Chinese takeover in Washington's backyard was raised.
Max Boot, of the Council on Foreign Relations thinktank in New York, warned ominously last month of a Chinese "stealth war" involving financial, resource, psychological, media and even ecological warfare.
Some US worries have a basis in fact. A recent Pentagon report re-emphasised concerns that China's military build-up could in time pose a "credible threat" to the US and its allies in the Asia-Pacific theatre. Japan, whose relations with both China and Russia could be better, offered a similar assessment this month.
Working through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which embraces Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, China and Russia are also pursuing a common security and economic agenda in central Asia.
An SCO call for the US to vacate its post-9/11 military bases in the area closely foreshadowed Uzbekistan's expulsion this month of American troops.
But while seeking to reduce US influence, a more important, shared target is "terrorism, separatism and extremism". By this, China and Russia mean Islamic resistance from Xinjiang to Chechnya - although Beijing also includes the non-Muslim "splittists" of Taiwan.
When the regime of the Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, killed supposed Islamists in Andijan in May, the US and the EU protested - and Russia and China cheered. Lack of respect for human rights and democracy are two other binding characteristics of the budding Moscow-Beijing alliance.
But Jennifer Moll, of the Foreign Policy Centre in London, said enhanced China-Russia collaboration, underpinned by their 2001 Friendship Treaty, did not necessarily mark the beginning of a new Asian "Great Game".
"They definitely share a lot of objections to US policies," Ms Moll said. "But it would be wrong to define the relationship simply in terms of anti-Americanism."
Fiona Hill, of the Brookings Institution in Washington, suggested the significance of the alliance could be exaggerated, however unsettling it appeared in Taipei or Kiev.
"China is a rising power but Russia is a declining one," Ms Hill said. Each country remained deeply suspicious of the other. And given their respective weaknesses, she said, each had reason to fear - and to court - American power, of which more tomorrow.