CHINA and Russia started the second stage of their Joint Sea-2017 military exercises on Monday last week in the geopolitically fraught Sea of Okhotsk, after the first stage held earlier this year in the Mediterranean and Baltic Sea, the forefront of a NATO-Russia stalemate.
The first stage attracted much attention for it took place in a region closer to a cause of US-Russia rivalry as Moscow and Washington wrangled over Trump's Kremlin connection. The time and venue of the second stage are even more sensitive. Now, North Korea has just completed a hydrogen bomb test and Northeast Asia is on tenterhooks as war games are held in the vicinity of North Korea, Japan and Russia.
If the first stage of the joint military drills is a proof of the Chinese Navy's capability to enter areas controlled by Western countries after over 10 years of rapid development and part of the Beijing-Moscow comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination, the second stage shows that China and Russia are capable and willing to build the security structure in Northeast Asia.
The delicately balanced previous security structure in Northeast Asia was based on equilibrium among regional powers and growing economic interdependence, but the THAAD deployment by the US in South Korea has changed the equation.
First, the tendency to form camps is growing among Northeast Asian countries. The deployment of THAAD has sent China-South Korea ties into a tailspin. China-Japan relations remain everything but normal. Both Japan and South Korea become more reliant on the US to safeguard national security and hedge against China's growing regional influence.
As a response, China and Russia have to stand beside one another and enhance security cooperation. Though in no way can this camp-forming compare with that during the Cold War in the antagonistic 1950s and 1960s, the grouping-up reveals a problematic security structure in Northeast Asia.
Biased Western countries with camp-like mind-set believe China-Russia joint military exercises are guilty of cooperation between the two armies. As cooperation between the two navies gets deeper, concerns and anxiety grow in the hearts of Western countries. For China and Russia, the eastward expansion of NATO and the THAAD deployment in South Korea are measures by US-led Western countries to strategically contain and besiege them. Such thinking from both sides can lead to misjudgment on critical issues.
Second, the THAAD deployment has motivated Northeast Asian countries to expand their arsenals and pushed North Korea to nuclearize itself. Japan, South Korea and China have been increasing military spending and boosting military development of late. The US has stepped up military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Though nuclear tests have caused instability in the region, nuclear weapons are a choice of North Korea to defend its regime.
Third, answers to regional crises such as the nuclear issue in North Korea no longer work. The fine tradition of solving conflicts by dialogue has developed in Northeast Asia after it underwent nuclear crises, Sino-Japanese discord, island disputes between Japan and South Korea, etc. THAAD has disabled dialogues between China and South Korea, and North Korea and South Korea. The US is having a tiger by the tail - once it compromises on THAAD, allies may lose faith in Washington, leading to corrosion of US President Donald Trump's personal authority.
Instability in Northeast Asia forces China and Russia to enhance strategic cooperation and reshape regional security. The American plan before UN Security Council Resolution 2375 was complete oil embargo on North Korea, which was rejected by Russia citing humanitarian considerations. Russian President Vladimir Putin openly claimed that more sanctions would accomplish the very opposite and dent stability on the Korean Peninsula. Russia's stance on the North Korean issue stays in line with that of China.
Structural realism believes balance of power among major countries brings stability. The previous delicate balance in Northeast Asia has already broken down and equilibrium among powers will play a crucial role in reshaping regional security structure. Countries in the region are forming camps. Many think that making North Korea give up nuclear weapons is mission impossible. Under such circumstances, China-Russia strategic collaboration is even more important. The second stage of China-Russia military exercises has proved that the two countries are both able and willing to safeguard regional security.
By: Cui Heng
Source: Global Times
The author is a PhD candidate at the Center for Russian Studies, East China Normal University.