National Interest on September 16, 2016, published an article by Abhijit Singh on the growing naval cooperation between Russia and China in Asia. Excerpts below:

There’s a growing intimacy between two of Asia’s big naval powers and it’s causing disquiet among regional watchers and maritime policymakers. Russia and China are growing closer in the nautical realm, much to the chagrin of Indian, American and Southeast Asian analysts who feel that their growing bilateral synergy could impact the balance of power in Asia.

The trigger for the latest bout of anxiety is ‘Joint Sea-2016’— a joint Sino-Russian naval exercise featuring surface ships, submarines, fixed-wing aircraft, ship-borne helicopters and amphibious vessels navies. China has announced that its biggest naval drill with Russia will include the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLA-N’s) Nanhai fleet, and will involve, among other exercises, anti-submarine and amphibious missions.

This is the first time Russian and Chinese naval contingents are meeting for combat drills in the South China Sea…

During an earlier exercise in the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea in May [2015], senior commanders made statements challenging America’s strategic dominance of Eurasia. Russian and Chinese leaders believe that the US is the central destabilizing factor in the region’s geopolitics, and is engaged in a systemic containment of Moscow and Beijing. By staging close-combat naval exercises, they hope to warn Washington that its primacy in maritime Asia is at an end.

[In this exercise]Beijing’s has announced an ‘island-seizing’ exercise involving a sizeable contingent of the PLA Marine Corps.

To be sure, China and Russia have their share of political differences. Russia’s had concerns about Chinese encroachments in the Russian Far-East and the loss of Central Asia to China’s growing influence. Following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, however, President Vladimir Putin’s had to accommodate growing Chinese ambitions in Russia’s zone of influence. To diversify Russia’s energy export markets away from Europe, Putin has acquiesced to an asymmetric relationship with China, by allowing Beijing to extract the greater share of benefits through a ‘special’ ally status.

Moscow is reassured by China’s continuing dependence on Russia for defense technology. Since December 1992, when the two countries signed an agreement on military technology cooperation, China has purchased more defense items from the Russian Federation than from any other country.

Even so, the trajectory of recent maritime interactions suggests that the partnership is beginning to outgrow the original template of military cooperation. Not only has the size of participating contingents grown, the quality of exercises has substantially improved. The military relationship has benefited from a huge political investment from Putin, who’s taken a personal interest in nurturing the partnership. Beijing, in search of an ally to counter-balance the US Navy, has been happy to play along.

The nautical synergy also reveals an enduring correlation between geopolitics and maritime strategy. The Sino–Russian maritime relationship seems driven by political motivations and a desire to jointly counter US military pressure… many in Moscow are beginning to view Chinese island infrastructure in the South China Sea as protection for Russia against a US attack. It hasn’t surprised anyone that the Russian Navy has co-opted China as a ‘core partner’ in its new maritime doctrine, signaling a desire for greater maritime influence in the Asia–Pacific.

[In South Asia] Indian policymakers…worry about Russia’s warming defense relationship with Pakistan. After waiving its arms embargo on Pakistan in June 2014, Moscow signed a bilateral defence cooperation agreement with Islamabad, even agreeing to sell Mi-35 helicopters to the Pakistan Army…In addition, a recent report has suggested Russia and Pakistan are slated to hold their first ever joint military drill in the coming months.

With a friendly Pakistan at hand, if the Sino-Russian nautical concord pushes into the Indian Ocean Region—as is being widely anticipated in the wake of India’s logistics agreement with the US—New Delhi knows it may be hard to reverse the shift in the regional balance of maritime power.

Comment: Growing imperial aspirations of Russia and China on the Eurasian world-island should be of greater concern to the West. At the end of the Obama administration there are also further worries on the rimland of Eurasia. Turkey is still a NATO member but there is growing influence of Islamism and signs of a new friendship between Moscow and Ankara. East of Turkey is another traditional anti-Western empire, Iran (Persia), and there are signs of warming relations between Russia and Pakistan.

Sir Halford Mackinder once raised the specter of Chinese conquest of Russian territory. That could make China the dominant political power according to this British geopolitician. One can say that China may achieve that in the twenty-first century without military conquest. To weaken American influence on the world island the two Eurasian empires plan to work with Iran and Pakistan. If Turkey was added as a partner to this dominant Eurasian “coalition” there would be a grave challenge to the West. A large group of empires would create a hemispheric hegemon.

The obvious answer to such a challenge is increased strength of the American military followed by a growing number of European NATO membership countries spending at least 2 percent of GNP on defense.

Globalism is not going to trump geography. Geopolitics is back after eight years of failed Western geostrategic thinking or even total lack of global strategy.


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