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China sent an uninvited spy ship to watch the war games with Russia

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Chinese troops march at the training ground
Chinese
troops march at the training ground “Tsugol”, about 250
kilometers (156 miles ) south-east of the city of Chita during
the military exercises Vostok 2018 in Eastern Siberia, Russia,
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018.


AP
Photo/Sergei Grits




  • Moscow and Beijing heralded the recent Vostok 2018 war
    games in eastern Russia as a tremendous success, celebrating
    closer military-to-military relations between China and
    Russia.
  • But the deployment of a Chinese spy ship to shadow
    Russian ships suggests that the bilateral relationship between
    China and Russia continues to be plagued by distrust.

China reportedly sent an uninvited surveillance ship to spy on
the recent joint military exercises with Russia, a move
highlighting how lingering distrust and competitiveness weaken
the so-called “strategic partnership” emerging between Moscow and
Beijing.

Beijing sent thousands of People’s Liberation Army troops
accompanied by tanks, helicopters, and artillery to eastern
Russia for joint drills last week. China also deployed a PLA Navy
Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) vessel to
shadow Russian naval assets training at sea while Chinese ground
troops trained on land,
USNI News reported
, citing a US official. The latter was
apparently not invited, but the opportunity to gather valuable
intelligence on a competitor was presumably too good to pass up.

While consistent with past Chinese practices — the Chinese
navy has sent spy ships to the Rim of the Pacific exercises — it
is unusual to surveil an ally while training alongside them, even
if it is technically legal under international law.

Given rising tensions between Washington and Moscow and Beijing,
some observers suggested that increasing US pressure was driving
Russia and China together, laying the groundwork for a possible
alliance. A strategic military partnership between the two powers
is alarming given each country’s interest in challenging
America’s leadership and unilateral power and authority in the
international system.

It sends a signal to Washington that if the U.S. continues
on its current course by pressuring Russia and imposing more
sanctions, Russia will fall even more into the firm embrace of
China,” Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Institute in Moscow
recently told
the Associated Press.

The “main political significance” of the Vostok 2018 drills
“comes from the signaling by both Russia and China about
the possible emergence of a strategic partnership,
aimed at countering the threat that both countries feel from
continued U.S. dominance of the international
system,” Dmitry Gorenburg
argued
in The Washington Post.

The massive war games, touted as “unprecedented” and expected to
be held every five years going forward, came as Russian President
Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to stand
together against unilateralism. In June, Xi
called
Putin his “best friend,” a sentiment seemingly shared
by the latter.

But despite the budding bromance between Chinese and Russian
leadership, the bilateral relationship between the two countries
is undermined by decades of distrust dating back to the Cold War,
when Soviet and Chinese troops skirmished along the border and
tensions rose to the point that Russia was considering
a nuclear strike on China.

Chinese state-affiliated media downplayed talk of a
Chinese-Russian alliance, suggesting that the concept was being
overhyped. “China and Russia are not allies, and they are
firm in not forging an alliance,” the nationalist Global Times
explained
in a recent editorial. “But the outside world shouldn’t make
China and Russia feel an urgent need to strengthen their military
cooperation.”

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis
said
recently that he sees “little in the long term that
aligns Russia and China.”

Exactly what the Chinese intelligence vessel was doing remains
unclear, but experts suspect that it was gathering information on
Russia’s more technologically-sophisticated navy given China’s
interest in advancing its radar and electronic warfare
capabilities, USNI News reported. Assuming the ship was indeed
uninvited, China may have been trying to learn more about Russian
warfighting than Russia was willing to teach.

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