The Samum missile hovercraft (archive)
TASS/Sergey Velichkin, Vladimir Rodionov
Lyudmila Alexandrova Lyudmila Alexandrova
MOSCOW, May 18. /TASS/. The ongoing Russia-China exercise in the Mediterranean Joint Sea-2015 (its active phase began on Monday) has drawn a far greater response from the West than any of the previous such events. Up to now such drills invariably took place in the Pacific Ocean close to the borders of China and Russia. This time, it has been moved to the Mediterranean.
Russian Defense Ministry officials deny that the Joint Sea-2015 exercise has a political side to it. Some Western experts, though, suspect that the emergence of China’s naval ships side by side with Russian ones in the Mediterranean will be a counter-response to tighter military cooperation between the United States and Japan. Moscow, for its part, would like to make it clear to Washington it is not in isolation. US media have quoted US Administration officials as saying tighter cooperation by Russia and China has already made Washington nervous.
Experts polled by TASS believe Washington feels so uneasy because earlier it had misinterpreted the situation all along.
“There is nothing special, no big politics behind the exercises. It’s not an act of sabre rattling or a super challenge to the West, either,” the acting director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Far East Institute, Sergey Luzyanin, told TASS. What makes the exercise so special is it is being held in a more remote area than before. Exercises on land and on the high seas are usually planned in advance. Russia and China started holding joint naval drills back four years ago. None of them caused such a negative response from the West, Luzyanin said.
Politically, he believes, these exercises are a clear sign Russian-Chinese partnership is getting stronger. On the other hand, “this is not a military alliance at all: neither Moscow nor Washington want it.”
The analyst believes the United States’ reaction has been so nervous because Washington all of a sudden has “regained eyesight.” “In the past there was the firm belief China and the United States “go hand in hand,” because the United States is China’s largest trading and economic partner, and it is the economic interests that should determine the choice of the political course. But as soon as Xi Jingping, shortly after rising to the helm of power, selected Moscow, and not Washington, as the first foreign capital for his official visit, although in keeping with the economic logic it should have been the other way round, it became clear that there also exist geopolitical motives, and that they can be stronger than money. One cannot say that China disregards its own economic interests altogether, but from the geopolitical standpoint Russia is first, and the United States, second.”
“Two or three years ago some Western media speculated over the possibility the two countries might team up for a military alliance – an Asian counterpart of NATO,” the head of oriental studies at the Higher School of Economics, Aleksey Maslov, said. “Russia and China have selected a different path: not that of establishing a military union, but of advancing cooperation within the framework of a common strategy.”
Whereas before they held military exercises in the Asia-Pacific Region, this time the joint drills in the Mediterranean indicate their joint operations are possible any place.
“That’s the most important development. Before, China invariably positioned itself as a purely Asian leader,” Maslov said.
The United States had a major reason to get nervous about the Russian-Chinese exercise in the Mediterranean, he argues.
“Until just recently it had thought that closer Russian-Chinese contacts were fraught with no risks, because the United States is China’s largest trading partner. Also, Washington hoped that China would stick to the concept of safeguarding its own interests in China. Now all of a sudden there comes this exercise in the Mediterranean – a realm of NATO’s influence. The Europeans feel cautious, too.”
And the deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Far East Institute, Andrey Ostrovsky, sounds unequivocal: “In response to Western sanctions Russia is stepping up relations with the other countries in the BRICS group, above all, China.”
He explains that China pursues its own aims. There is a great discrepancy between its economic and political potential, so it hopes that cooperation with Russia will help change this.