The Indo-Pacific region is quickly becoming the front for the new ‘Cold War’ between an ascendant China and its Russian partner against the democratic powers of the region and others like Australia, Japan, India, the US, Canada and the UK.
Chinese and Russian warships embarked on their first joint naval exercise in the western Pacific Ocean. A flotilla of 10 warships passed through Tsugaru Strait, situated between Japan's main Honshu island and the northern island of Hokkaido, Japanese Defence Ministry's Joint Staff said in a statement.
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The flotilla then continued to sail south before turning westwards towards the Osumi Strait, which separates Japan’s south from the islands of the Kagoshima prefecture. The two navies completed almost a full circumnavigation of the Japanese mainland before parting in the East China Sea.
"The joint exercise and joint cruise have further developed the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era, and effectively improved both sides' capabilities of joint operations, which was conducive to jointly maintaining international and regional strategic stability," Rear Admiral Bai Yaoping of the People's Liberation Army's Northern Theater Command and the Deputy Commander of the Chinese Navy said in a statement.
While China and Russia had parted ways diplomatically during the Sino-Soviet split due to ideological differences over communism along with other strategic concerns, the two countries now increasingly find themselves in a marriage of convenience due to their rivalry with the US, and other regional power in the Indo-Pacific.
While the international manoeuvre was legal in the strictest sense of the rules, it has been seen as an aggressive move and a deliberate message from Russia and China to Japan and the US. The Japanese government is "watching with great interest the activities of Chinese and Russian warships around Japan," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki told reporters last week.
"We will take nothing for granted in our warning and surveillance activities in the air and sea domains around Japan."
The joint navy operation used a Cold War-era loophole that allowed the warships to legally travel through the narrow channel of the Osumi Strait as they are considered international waters, even though this placed the warships within striking distance of the Japanese shoreline on either side.
Japan has had tense relationships with both countries since the turn of the previous century. Japan had engaged in several conflicts with the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century, and the two nations are yet to formally sign a peace treaty for ending their involvement in the World War II conflict, over disputes on territorial claims on a chain of islands north of Hokkaido.
The Sino-Japanese war was among the deadliest battle theatres in World War II and saw countless atrocities being committed by the invading Japanese forces. Since then, China and Japan have faced off over the former’s claims on the entire South China Sea and assertion of sovereignty on Japanese-controlled islands.
Chinese aggression towards Taiwan, which is a strategic partner for Japan as the island nation provides 90 percent of Japan’s energy resources, also brings further concern for the Japanese.
Also read: Xi vows to reunify Taiwan with China; says 'peaceful reunification' in best interest of all
The Quad and other countermoves
The increasingly aggressive stance of China in the area had earlier prompted the creation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), comprising Japan, India, Australia and the US. The dialogue was resurrected and the leaders of the nation even met in person in a recent meeting in the US. Japan has also worked with partners like the UK and US in training its increasingly expanding navy to improve its defences.
F-35 fighter jets, high-tech destroyers and submarines, and anti-ballistic missiles capable of intercepting hypersonic missiles within other nations’ boundaries are now part of Japan’s growing arsenal.
The increasing tension in the Indo-Pacific region with an ascendant China and a belligerent Russia against the other powers of the region is expected to cause rapid militarisation of the area. The US has maintained its commitment to ensuring stability in the region.
"We are going to do everything as a navy to be as forward-leaning as possible to ensure that we can protect our country's national security and economic interests, and those of our allies and partners," said Carlos Del Toro, Secretary of the Navy, US.
"And so, all bets are on the table, with regard to what we're looking at, and we're going to work very closely with our partners to position ourselves, collectively together, basically, to be able to deter, China, or any other country that presents itself in ways
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)
First Published: Oct 26, 2021 8:15 PM IST