In addition to their growing energy and renewed arms trade, another sign of the strengthening Russia-China relationship was their recently concluded bilateral naval exercise. The drills were larger and more sophisticated than those held last year. But they are still far from establishing a Russia-China capacity for joint maritime combat operations, which does not appear a goal of either government in any case.
The active phase of the maneuvers took place July 8-10 in the waters off of Vladivostok. Twelve Russian vessels from the Pacific Fleet participated in this year’s drill, compared to seven warships and support craft in 2012. China sent fewer ships than last year, a total of seven vessels from its North Sea and South Sea fleets, but they included some of the People's Liberation Army Navy’s most advanced warships, including a guided-missile destroyer with an Aegis-type radar system. The drills involved a total of 4,000 military personnel, including Special Forces units from both countries.
In addition to joint exercises, the Russian and Chinese naval partnership encompasses reciprocal port visits, some personnel exchanges and extensive Russian naval weapons sales to China. The two countries had conducted joint naval maneuvers before 2012, but only as a maritime component of the “Peace Mission” series of military exercises that they conducted under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The past two years’ maritime drills occurred independently of the SCO, a trend that looks likely to continue.