By GEOFFREY YORK
Toronto Globe and Mail
August 17, 2005
The two countries are calling it Peace Mission 2005, but it looks more like a rehearsal for full-scale war. The 10,000 Russian and Chinese soldiers will be practicing a variety of standard combat techniques: long-range bombing runs, cruise-missile attacks, a naval assault on a coastal beachhead and a parachute landing by paratroopers.
It's the first time the two nations have conducted a joint military exercise, and their neighbors - including the United States, Japan and Taiwan - will be watching with some trepidation. There are growing concerns that Beijing and Moscow are forging a military alliance that could shift the global balance of power in an unpredictable new direction.
According to the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, the joint exercise "will help strengthen the capability of the two armed forces in jointly striking international terrorism, extremism and separatism." But with its strategic bombers and submarines, the exercise seems to go far beyond the needs of a mere anti-terrorism action.
The military exercise - which begins in Vladivostok Thursday and continues in China's eastern Shandong province until Aug. 25 - is the latest example of ambitious muscle-flexing by two countries that have long complained of U.S. attempts to dominate the world.
China and Russia are the leaders of a new Central Asian organization that has applied pressure on Washington to withdraw from its military bases in the region. The six-nation group, known as the Shanghai Co-operation Organization, was born as an anti-terrorism alliance but has increasingly started to resemble a military bloc.
Last month, Beijing and Moscow issued a joint statement that implicitly condemned the United States for "striving for monopoly and domination in international affairs." Although the statement did not mention the United States by name, it was clearly aimed at the Americans. It called for a "multipolar world" - coded language for a world where countries such as China and Russia would balance the power of the United States.
The members of the Shanghai organization - which includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - have been invited to send observers to the joint military exercise this week.
A senior official of the U.S. State Department confirmed that Washington will be closely following the exercise, even though it was not invited to observe. "We would hope that anything that they do is not something that would be disruptive to the current atmosphere in the region," Sean McCormack, an assistant secretary of state, said at a press briefing this week.
Japan, which has been worried by the rapid growth of China's military budget, will also be watching carefully as the joint exercise gets under way.
"There is a possibility it may gradually have a big influence on this region," General Yoshinori Ono, director of the Japanese Defense Agency, said in a press conference. "We must pay close attention to the relationship between China and Russia, including this kind of joint exercise."
China and Russia have been forging a much closer strategic partnership in recent years. They have settled a border dispute, signed energy deals and reached agreement on weaponry sales. China has emerged as the biggest customer for Russia's advanced weaponry and military equipment.
Their joint exercise this week could be followed by closer military links between the two countries. "I do not rule out the possibility of conducting larger-scale exercises in the future," Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, said in an interview with a Moscow newspaper last week.
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