China will join Russia later this week for its largest-ever naval drills with a foreign partner, underlining deepening ties between the former cold war rivals along with Beijing’s desire for closer links with regional militaries.
China has long been a key customer for Russian military hardware, but only in the last decade have their militaries begun taking part in joint exercises.
China’s defence ministry said on Tuesday that its navy would send four destroyers, two guided missile frigates and a support ship for the exercises, which start on Friday in the Sea of Japan and run until 12 July.
The ships departed on Monday from the port of Qingdao, where China’s Northern Fleet is based, and headed for the rallying point in Peter the Great Bay near Vladivostok.
“This marks our navy’s single biggest deployment of military force in a China-foreign joint exercise,” the ministry said.
General Fang Fenghui, the People’s Liberation Army chief of the general staff, announced the exercises during a visit to Moscow, where he met his Russian counterpart, Valery Gerasimov. The two also announced that another round of anti-terrorism joint drills would be held in Russia’s Ural mountains from 27 July to 15 August.
In comments reported by the official Liberation Army Daily, Fang emphasised that outsiders should not consider the exercises threatening.
“The joint drill conducted by the two militaries of China and Russia do not target any third parties. Their aim is to deepen co-operation between the two militaries in the training field, boost capacity in co-ordinating military activities, and serve the purpose of safeguarding regional security and stability,” Fang said.
China began deploying ships to the anti-piracy flotilla off the coast of Somalia in 2008 and in recent years its navy has joined in a series of joint drills in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Chinese land units have taken part in border security and anti-terrorism exercises organised by the six-nation Shanghai Co-operation Organisation.
Co-operation with the US navy, the predominant maritime force in the region, has been more limited, although China will take part next year in the US-organised multinational Rim of the Pacific exercises, the world’s largest maritime exercise.