China joins Russian military drills to divert attention from Taiwan

Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
Chinese troops march during Vostok 2022 military exercises at a firing range in Russia’s Far East on Aug. 31.

SHENYANG/NEW DELHI — China has dispatched its army, navy and air force to take part in Russia’s large-scale Vostok 2022 military exercises in hopes of diverting U.S. and Japan attention to the Sea of Japan, and away from Taiwan-related issues.

The Chinese military first joined the drills in 2018, but this is the first time for it to send all three arms of its military to participate in joint exercises with the Russian Navy in the Sea of Japan.

Reporting on Saturday’s exercises, the official newspaper of the Chinese military — Sunday’s People’s Liberation Army Daily — said that Chinese fighter jets, along with Russian reconnaissance aircraft and bombers, precisely attacked “enemy” targets.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration aims to build an elite fighting force capable of victory; some experts say Beijing likely sees its participation in the drills as helping to further this goal.

“By conducting exercises with Russia, China hopes to confirm the effectiveness of its own command structure and new equipment,” said Masayuki Masuda, chief of Policy Studies Department of the National Institute for Defense Studies in Japan. “[This is because] Russia has a lot of experience with real warfare.”

But with the communist party congress coming up in China in October, it is likely that Beijing does not want to provoke the West more than necessary.

The Chinese Defense Ministry stressed in August that its participation had nothing to do with the international situation, saying it was taking part “based on the annual plan and common understanding between the two sides.”

India has also joined the military drills, despite being a member of the Quad framework in which Japan, Australia, India and the United States aim to counter Chinese influence. India has not joined Japan and the West in imposing sanctions against Russia, as New Delhi values its traditional friendly relations with Moscow.

A senior official from the Indian Defense Ministry told The Yomiuri Shimbun that India’s participation in the Russian drills was entirely natural and that it would have no impact on relationships within the Quad.

However, India will only participate in land exercises and it has not announced how many soldiers it plans to send. The Quad considers sea-related issues to be a major area of cooperation, and as such, India may have given consideration to the United States and Japan in this regard.