MOSCOW - Yesterday, Chief of the Russian General Staff Yury Baluyevsky left for China to settle a scandal over the first Russian-Chinese military exercise, Commonwealth-2005, which is due to be held this fall off the Yellow Sea coast, writes Kommersant.
The initial plans were to practice operational teamwork in combating terrorism during the exercise. However, Beijing, skillfully changing the format of the exercise, has tried to re-orient the two countries' armies to practicing an invasion of Taiwan.
The choice of where the exercise will take place became a stumbling block. The Russian military selected the Xinjiang-Uigur autonomous region, basing their choice on the area's problematic nature due to Uigur separatists and its proximity to Central Asia, which has become an arena in the fight against international terrorism. However, Beijing flatly rejected the proposal. Instead, it suggested the Zhejiang province near Taiwan.
A joint exercise in this area would look too provocative and trigger a strong reaction not only from Taiwan but also America and Japan, which recently included the island in the zone of their common strategic interests.
Beijing is trying to use Russia as an additional lever of pressure on the disobedient island to show it that its policy is also causing dissatisfaction in Russia, from which the Taiwanese are expecting assistance in their dialogue with Beijing and bid to join the WTO and the UN.
On the Russian military's insistence, the exercise was shifted north to the Shangdong peninsula. However, the Chinese are trying to change the format of the exercise with proposals to enlarge the contingents with Marines and Pacific Fleet warships. Marine landings to seize the area will be practiced during the "antiterrorist" exercise.
Russia's agreement to hold the exercise will inevitably cause a furor in America, Japan and Taiwan. But a refusal will spoil relations with China, which three months ago courteously agreed to Russia's proposal to hold an exercise.