China’s increased participation in Russia’s Vostok 2022 war games has sparked fears of closer relations between the two.
According to the news outlet for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army PLA Daily, the eight-day exercises – which ended on Wednesday – demonstrated their “readiness for war”. Of the 14 countries that participated, the PLA sent the second-largest contingent, including more than 2,000 personnel and 300 vehicles.
PLA Daily’s report said the exercises “reflected the level of the PLA’s training and readiness for war and the advances in national defence and military reform.”
Zhao Jianyou, assistant to the Chinese commander of the joint battle command for the exercise, said: “All forces showcased new improvements in their operations”.
Highlighting the significance of China’s increasing involvement with the games, international relations expert Danil Bochkov said: “It is the fourth time Chinese forces have taken part in Russian strategic war games and second time they have been involved in Vostok exercise.” He added that 2022’s event saw China play an increased role in the event, saying it was the “first time the PLA has been represented at the event by all three major branches – ground, naval and air forces.”
Chinese defence ministry spokesperson Colonel Tan Kefei said that China’s participation in Vostok-2022 aims to deepen “cooperation between the militaries of the participating countries, enhance the level of strategic cooperation among all participating parties, and enhance the ability to jointly respond to various security threats”.
However, according to the US-based US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, China’s Ministry of Defence claimed the PLA’s participation in the events “is unrelated to the current international and regional situation,” in an effort to maintain China’s appearance of neutrality on the invasion of Ukraine.
According to military blogger Big Ivan, many of the exercises undertaken during Vostok 2022 suggest increased collaboration between the Russian and Chinese forces. He noted that these suggested a higher level of mutual trust and closer coordination between the two.
He added that a high degree of attention had been given to communications, with state broadcaster CCTV showing soldiers issued with special mobile phones and advanced radio devices installed in equipment. The blogger wrote: “In a sense, [the PLA] are demonstrating to the Russian army the correct way to manage signals.”
Jiang Zhaosheng, deputy commander of the ground forces involved in the drill, said the exercise tested the ability of various equipment to adapt to the environment and manoeuvre in unfamiliar areas. Mr Zhaosheng specifically highlighted the ground force’s Type 99 battle tanks, as well as the Type 04A armoured vehicles, which he says showed high mobility and strike prevision in difficult terrain and bad weather.
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PLA officers also drew attention to the role of drones, which have recently proven effective for both sides in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The joint naval exercise with Russia was unprecedented for the PLA Navy, and involved practising hunting an “enemy submarine”.
The purpose of these games is often more ostentatious than practical. The Ministry of Defence had previously said the war in Ukraine has highlighted the shortcomings of such exercises, which it dismissed as little more than a PR stunt.
Its statement said: “Russia’s military performance in Ukraine has highlighted that Russia’s military strategic exercises, such as Vostok, have failed to sustain the military’s ability to conduct large scale, complex operations. Such events are heavily scripted, do not encourage initiative, and primarily aim to impress Russian leaders and international audiences.”
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The MoD added that Russia’s claim that 50,000 of its troops would take part in Vostok 2022 was likely a dramatic exaggeration, claiming instead that it was unlikely that more than 15,000 would be involved due to the demands of the war in Ukraine. Troops from India, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Syria were also involved in the exercises.
However India withdrew from the naval side of the exercises to avoid upsetting Japan, according to Indian newspaper the Deccan Herald. The Vostok exercises also proved incendiary for relations with Japan, as Chinese and Russian warships conducted drills in waters disputed between Russia and Japan.
Tokyo said it was “seriously concerned” about the firing exercises by Russian and Chinese warships off Japan’s northern coast.