Military helicopters take up positions during a Chinese and Russian military training operation on crossing water barriers at the Tsugol training base in Russia’s TransBaikal region. The Russian Vostok-2018, or East-2018, military exercise officially started in the Russian Far East on Tuesday. About 3,200 troops from China are participating. The joint combat operation command training session kicked off on Wednesday
Russia launched its biggest military drills Vostok-2018 (East2018) since the Cold War Tuesday, and the People’s Liberation Army sent over 3,000 troops and over 1,000 pieces of military equipment. The West is analyzing at which country the military drills are targeted.
Vostok-2018 is a massive military exercise with as many as 300,000 troops participating. In the Chinese people’s opinion, the drills’ primary political purpose is to show Russia’s military strength instead of preparing for battle with a specific enemy.
Russia has vast territory and a small population and military is its strong point. One of Russia’s traditions is showing its military muscle and scaring off Moscow’s potential intimidators, especially when Russia is relatively weak.
The country that contests with Russia strategically tends to believe that the military drills are aimed at itself. Among major powers, China is the nearest to Vostok-2018, while the US is the farthest. China doesn’t regard the drills as targeting Beijing and China sent troops to participate. The US may feel uncomfortable considering that Washington has squeezed Moscow the hardest.
There are two purposes behind China’s participation. First, it is to strengthen friendship between the two militaries and consolidate the ChinaRussia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination. Second, China can learn from Russia’s wartime experience and thus be more familiar with actual combat.
It’s natural that the outside world interpret the military drills geopolitically. However, if over-interpreted, the drills’ insignificant meaning could be exaggerated.
China doesn’t want to be any major power’s enemy. China will focus on economic development for a long time. China’s external relations are based on expanding reciprocal cooperation, not forcefully expanding sphere of influence. As long as other major powers don’t challenge China’s core interest or coerce China, Beijing’s military will never be their opponent.
The China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination is defensive. Such strategic cooperation has provided the two countries with a sense of security.
China’s military activities basically take place in its offshore waters. The farthest country that Russian military reached in recent years is Syria. The US still controls the central part of the major oceans, and neither China nor Russia has the basis to challenge US global leadership.
China and Russia are not allies, and they are firm in not forging an alliance. But the outside world shouldn’t make China and Russia feel an urgent need to strengthen their military cooperation.
It’s normal that two major powers have subtle geopolitical conflicts if they are neighboring countries, especially China and Russia with their historical disputes. While China-Russia relations are well-developed, they both have a twisted relationship with a distant major power. It would miss the central point to discuss the potential target of this military drills. Other countries should rethink why they can’t become good friends with Beijing and Moscow.