© RIA Novosti
Analyzing military cooperation development between Russia and China this year, one inevitably pays attention to the widely met "for the first time" phrase. Indeed, the People's Republic of China has for the first time hosted the West/Interaction-2021 exercises. The Peace Mission-2021 drills have for the first time featured a PLA land group redeployed over a considerable distance, to the Orenburg region, by rail. And last week, a group of ships of the Russian and Chinese navies has for the first time engaged in joint patrolling of the western Pacific Ocean.
The latter event has to be highlighted, being a milestone in the history of the two countries' military cooperation, as many military experts believe. Shortly before the patrolling, from October 14 to 17, another exercise of the Maritime Interaction-2021 series took place in the Sea of Japan. Ahead of it, a detachment of PLA navy ships arrived at the Peter the Great Bay anchoring berth.
The first stage of the drills featured coastal minesweeper of Russia's Pacific Fleet convoying the two countries' ships to a Sea of Japan naval proving ground closed pursuant to international rules for the duration of drills. The second stage saw ship groups being deployed that performed joint tactical maneuvering. Later on, the participants had an anti-mine training activity, search and isolation of a simulated enemy's submarine, as well as a live fire exercise.
Representing the Russian side were the Admiral Panteleev anti-submarine warfare cruiser, the 20380-series corvettes Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov and Gromky, two coastal minesweepers, a 877-project submarine Ust-Bolsheretsk, a missile boat and a rescue tug. The Chinese side was represented by two Type 052D Kunming destroyers and Type 055 stealth guided missile destroyer Nanchang, two corvettes, a diesel submarine, a supply boat and a rescue ship. Apart from the ships, 12 naval planes and helicopters of the Pacific Fleet and the PLA Navy were engaged. Covering the area closed for exercises was the Admiral Tributs large anti-submarine ship, whose task was to stop the acts of provocation by the USS Chafee imitating an invasion into Russia's territorial waters.
Upon completion of the exercises, the period from October 17 to 23 witnessed the surface group (except for a missile boat and a tugboat) joined by the Admiral Tributs and the Marshal Krylov measuring complex ship, along with six helicopters conduct joint patrolling in the western Pacific Ocean, covering over 1,700 nautical miles. During the mission, the detachment passed through the strategic Tsugaru Strait, which is the Russian Pacific Fleet's shortest route from the Vladivostok naval base to the Pacific Ocean.
The mission's declared task was to demonstrate the flags of Russia and China, maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and protect the two countries' business facilities and transport corridors. The Chinese press dubbed the initiated escapade as a signal of sweeping changes in military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing. According to a number of experts, the next step may be regular joint floating in the Indo-Pacific zone, with the ultimate goal being joint control of its air and maritime space.
If we recall the numerous joint airspace patrolling by Russia and the PLA, such a scenario looks highly likely to become an adequate response to the US desire of destabilizing the Asia-Pacific region, namely by creating military and political blocs like AUKUS.
Close cooperation between Russia and China, including the military sphere, poses a serious threat to be dealt with, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a videoconference. Many emotionalist pundits in the United States consider this threat "deadly". In an interview with the Financial Times newspaper, Stoltenberg said he believes the alliance should contemplate China's threat in conjunction with Russia's.
Stuck to this position, the West naturally expects retaliatory actions from Moscow and Beijing. In terms of present-day geopolitics, a possible military and political alliance between the Kremlin and Zhongnanhai is a high-priority or even pivotal issue.
Responding to a relevant question during the plenary session of the Valdai International Discussion Club on October 21, President Putin once again stressed that Russia and China do not intend to be friends against anyone else, while the attained level of strategic cooperation provides for ensuring safety and protecting the interests of both.
China agreed with this statement by the Russian leader, with Beijing's official viewpoint voiced by Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, who said China and Russia are "more than allies."
All that remains to the collective West is to speculate about this formulation and to keep monitoring the development of Russia-China cooperation, including what everyone recently witnessed in the Tsugaru Strait.