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Russia and China Hold First-Ever Joint Patrol in the Western Pacific

Published: October 28, 2021
The Russian antisubmarine warfare ship "Kalmikiya" attended a naval honour review on Navy Day July 26, 2015. Chinese and Russian militaries recently held a joint patrol, sailing through the Tsugaru Strait near Japan. (Image: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)

Over the past few years, Moscow and Beijing have seen their relationships with the West turn tense for various reasons. This has led to Russia and China strengthening their political, economic, and military ties.

On Oct. 23, the Russian defense ministry announced that Chinese and Russian warships have held their first-ever joint patrols in the western Pacific Ocean. Earlier this month, the two countries also conducted naval cooperation exercises in the Sea of Japan. The recent drill, which was held over four days between Oct. 17 and Oct. 23, involved a total of 10 warships, five from each nation. The patrol covered over 1,700 nautical miles. 

The naval operations, closely monitored by Japan, saw the 10 vessels sail through the Tsugaru Strait which separates Japan’s main island and its northern island of Hokkaido. The warships then sailed south.

“The group of ships passed through the Tsugaru Strait for the first time as part of the patrol … The tasks of the patrols were the demonstration of the Russian and Chinese state flags, maintaining of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and guardianship of the subjects of maritime economic activities of the two countries,” Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement.

For drills, Russia deployed Admiral Tributs and Admiral Panteleyev Udaloy-class destroyers, the Navy tracking ship Marshal Krylov, and Steregushchiy-class corvettes Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov and Gromky. 

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) sent the new Type 055 guided-missile stealth destroyer Nanchang, the supply ship Dongpinghu, Type 052D guided-missile destroyer Kunming, as well as the Type 054A frigates Binzhou and Liuzhou.

Public broadcaster NHK reported that the countries’ vessels also sailed through the Osumi Strait off the southwestern Japanese prefecture of Kagoshima. Japan’s defense ministry stated that the recent moves by the Chinese and Russian navies were unusual.

According to the Chinese Ministry of Defense, the joint maritime patrol has “further developed the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era, and effectively improved both sides’ capabilities of joint operations, which was conducive to jointly maintaining international and regional strategic stability.”

The ministry also insisted that the operation was not aimed at anyone but part of the annual collaboration between the two countries. Apart from the patrol, the navies participated in a series of military exercises and practiced joint tactical maneuvers. 

In an interview with Chinese state-backed Global Times, Military expert Song Zhongping said that the joint naval, air, and air-sea patrol between China and Russia will become common in the future. This will boost ties between the two nations and enhance joint operation capacity, he said.

With the exception of last year’s COVID-19 disruption, Russia and China have cooperated in military drills regularly since 2012. Annual joint strategic air patrols by the air forces of the two countries have been conducted over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea since 2019.

The countries are coming closer as they face mounting pressure from democratic international alliances like the AUKUS alliance involving Australia, UK, and U.S., and the Quad alliance involving Japan, India, Australia, and U.S..