China and Russia joint exercises to strengthen ties,s01=2.html

By Mure Dickie in Beijing
Published: August 2 2005 16:57 | Last updated: August 2 2005 16:57

Nearly 10,000 troops are to take part in unprecedented joint military exercises by China and Russia this month aimed at strengthening ties between the armed forces of two powers that were once bitter foes.

Chinese state media said yesterday the "Peace Mission 2005" exercises would be held from August 18-25 in and around the Russian far eastern port of Vladivostok and the Chinese coastal province of Shandong.

The scale of the exercises, which will involve land, air, naval, paratroop and marine forces, underlines the determination of Beijing and Moscow to expand a military relationship that has blossomed over the past 15 years.

Russia is now China's leading source of high-technology weaponry, while the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has become an important source of foreign currency for the crumbling Russian military industrial complex. "The drills mainly aim to deepen Sino-Russian mutual trust, promote mutual friendship and enhance the co-operation and co-ordination of the two armed forces in the areas of defence and security," China's official Xinhua news agency said.

Xinhua said about 1,800 troops from Russia would take part in the exercises along with vessels of its Pacific fleet and 17 long-range military cargo planes. "The joint exercises will also help strengthen the capability of the two armed forces in jointly striking international terrorism, extremism and separatism," the agency said.

The reference to separatism will heighten concerns about the exercises in Taiwan, which enjoys de facto independence from China but which Beijing claims as part of its territory. Chinese and Russian officials have insisted the drills are not aimed at any third party. The choice of name for the exercises and the decision to characterise them as aimed against terrorism also reflect Beijing's desire to avoid fuelling wider worries about its emergence as a military power.

A much-watched report by the US Department of Defence last month suggested the PLA's growing clout may tempt Beijing to use force against its neighbours and that it could pose a "credible threat" in the long term to other militaries in the region.

The planned exercises set the seal on a dramatic shift in Sino-Russian ties since the late 1980s.

Some people in China say much of the Russian far east rightfully belongs to Beijing and territorial rivalry has underlain diplomatic ties for more than three centuries. Under former communist governments the two countries espoused rival brands of Marxism and fought bloody battles along their common border.

In recent years, China and Russia have worked hard to resolve differences on territorial issues, although some observers say their military marriage is still largely one of convenience.