Chinese and Russian warships let loose a hail of gunfire Tuesday during joint naval exercises in the Baltic Sea.
A Chinese destroyer, frigate, and supply ship carrying ship-borne helicopters and Marines arrived at the Russian harbor at Baltisjk Friday for the “Joint Sea 2017” naval drills. The Russians dispatched one frigate, fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and Marines, according to China’s Xinhua News Agency.
China and Russia have been conducting joint military exercises for over a decade, but they began holding joint naval drills only a few years ago. The growing military partnership reflects the desires of their respective leaders to flex their muscles and challenge Western dominance. The two powers joined forces in the South China Sea last year for naval exercises, yet Beijing and Moscow, as is the case this time around, both argued that the drills were not aimed at any third country.
The Baltic Sea, much like the South China Sea, is an area fraught with occasionally high levels of geopolitical tension. The ongoing drills in the Baltic Sea are being monitored, a NATO spokesperson told The New York Times.
While China remains focused on near seas defense, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy has been extending its reach beyond the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea.
Towards the end of December, China sent a carrier group led by the Liaoning out of the Western Pacific, with Chinese media asserting that one day Chinese carriers will sail into the Eastern Pacific. China has sent ships off the coast of Alaska on multiple occasions, most recently to observe the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile intercept test carried out earlier this month. China is in the process of establishing a naval base in Djibouti along the Horn of Africa, with the Pentagon expecting more overseas military bases to emerge in the future. Now, Chinese ships are practicing combat maneuvers with the Russians in the Baltic Sea.
“China’s recent willingness to take extraordinarily strong unilateral steps to exercise its influence in maritime affairs is fundamentally related to its national objectives,” former Japanese Vice Adm. Yoji Koda, an expert at the Center for New American Security, told Deutsche Welle. “China often challenges established international norms and generates complicated dilemmas for the international community.” Chinese naval activities may offer insight into China’s broader foreign policy objectives.
China asserts that the ongoing drills in the Baltic Sea are intended to train Chinese and Russian forces to “carry out joint rescue missions and ensure maritime economic activities,” while Russia claims the exercises are intended to “train and improve cooperation procedures at sea.”
As China extends its reach to places beyond its shores, it will increasingly need to operate in the exclusive economic zones of other states. Beijing has traditionally made a fuss when U.S. military vessels have moved through its EEZ, arguing that it has the right to regulate foreign activities in these areas. China, however, applies a double standard when it sends its own ships out. Whether China, as its global power and influence grow, will maintain this double standard remains to be seen, but the country has a history of bending the rules to suits its interests while using them against other countries.
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