If before, China was still denying any direct support to Russia during the Ukraine-Russia war, now, they’re more open about their alliance.

Yesterday, China’s defense ministry announced that their troops will be traveling to Russia to participate in a joint military exercise called “Vostok.” The exercises will be held from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, in the midst of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Interestingly, the Chinese defense ministry says this joint military exercise has nothing to do with the ongoing war.

“[This is] unrelated to the current international and regional situation,” the ministry said.

Soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army
Soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1st Amphibious Mechanized Infantry Division (Source: Times Asi/Flickr)

China claimed the joint military exercise would include other countries like Tajikistan, India, Mongolia, and Belarus. This effort is reportedly part of their bilateral annual cooperation agreement with Russia.

“The aim is to deepen practical and friendly cooperation with the armies of participating countries, enhance the level of strategic collaboration among the participating parties, and strengthen the ability to respond to various security threats.”

The previous Vostok was held in 2018, where 300,000 troops were sent to Khabarovsk, a region close to the Chinese border. Military Specialist at London’s Chatham House Mathieu Boulegue said this event is “interesting” to observe.

“A lot of troops and gear from the eastern MD (military district) have already been deployed, rotated, lost and killed in Ukraine since February, so this will be interesting to see what they can salvage.”

On the other hand, Russia’s defense ministry said they would have the capacity to hold these drills even though they are conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

“We draw your attention to the fact that only a part of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is involved in the special military operation (in Ukraine), the number of which is quite sufficient to fulfil all the tasks set by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief,” the statement said.

US Intelligence Wary of the Alliance

However, as far as Chinese and Russian media are trying to sell this as an innocent, bi-lateral obligation, the timing for conducting the exercise is still tricky. China surrounding Taiwan has started conducting routine naval exercises around the island, blocking any active trade routes in the region.

Then, we have Russia that’s redirecting the world’s attention from their thinning forces in the Donbas and Kherson regions to Putin’s various political trips (like the one with Turkey’s Erdogan).

That’s why State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that they are really troubled by the “burgeoning relationship in the security realm” between the two countries.

“That is of concern because of the vision that the countries … [have] for the international order is … starkly at odds with the underpinnings of the international system that have been in place for eight decades following the end of the Second World War,” he said.

Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi

It’s also getting more worrisome since, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit, another group of US envoys is coming into Taiwan to discuss possibly creating a formal bilateral trade.

On the other hand, Russia is supporting China in its claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, with Russian President Vladimir Putin calling out the US for its “brazen demonstration” of overtaking China’s local policy.

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“The US escapade toward Taiwan is not just a voyage by an irresponsible politician, but part of the purpose-oriented and deliberate US strategy designed to destabilize the situation and sow chaos in the region and the world. It is a brazen demonstration of disrespect for other countries and their own international commitments.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin responded by saying he “highly appreciates” Putin’s remarks and cites that their values and beliefs have been one of the reasons their countries are working well together.

“…the high-level strategic coordination between China and Russia and the firm support the two countries have rendered each other on issues concerning their core interests,” said Wenbin.