Coordinated strategic Russian and Chinese bombers were spotted in the northeastern waters of East Asia in a show of force to President Biden, who was visiting the region.
The Russian and Chinese bombers flew over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea to send off Biden, who was in Tokyo, to meet with the leaders of the Quad group of countries. The fly-by was part of a joint military exercise held by Russia and China, the first one the two partners had since the invasion of Ukraine, which started last February 24.
The US government was monitoring the military exercise as the President was meeting with the leaders of Japan, Australia, and India. The group, called the Quad coalition, was a partnership created to combat the growing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific.
According to a senior US official, the Russian and Chinese bombers initially flew over the Sea of Japan and then continued south to the Philippine Sea. South Korea, which was in the vicinity of the exercise, issued a statement confirming that two Chinese warplanes and four Russian aircraft entered the country’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) off its east coast.
Two Chinese H-6 bombers and two Russian Tu-95 bombers fly over Sea of Japan and East China Sea together on May 24. The Russian bombers then fly with another two H-6 bombers over Western Pacific Ocean.
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The US official also noted that evidence from American agencies reveals that Chinese naval ships also likely took part in the military exercise. Joint exercises that deploy strategic bombers are more complex and require more stringent planning to coordinate. The White House condemned the exercise shortly after it was confirmed.
“This… shows that China continues to be willing to closely align itself with Russia, despite the brutality that Russia is committing in Ukraine,” a senior Biden administration official said.
China and Russia have conducted joint military exercises in the past. However, this is the first time the two militaries have done so since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
For some time, it appeared that Beijing was having difficulties managing its “limitless alliance” with Moscow, with the fear of receiving the same treatment the latter got from the West. However, conducting a joint military exercise on this scale definitely sends a message.
“We think it shows that China continues to be willing to closely align themselves with Russia, including through military cooperation,” another unnamed senior administration official said.
“China is not walking away from Russia. Instead, the exercise shows that China is ready to help Russia defend its east while Russia fights in its West,” the official added.
The Russian and Chinese bombers were reportedly composed of Chinese H-6K and Russian Tu-95Ms strategic bombers, according to a report by the Russian Defense Ministry. The report noted that the aircraft did not intrude on the airspace of sovereign countries during the exercise.
“In the process of accomplishing their tasks, the aircraft of both countries operated strictly in compliance with the provisions of international law. There were no violations of the airspace of foreign states,” the statement read.
Japanese jets scrambled to follow Russian and Chinese warplanes after the aircraft neared the country’s airspace. The joint patrol lasted for 13 hours and drew considerable concern from neighboring countries.
According to Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Tokyo has expressed “grave concerns” about the two countries’ diplomatic channels.
“We regard the military exercise conducted in the midst of the summit meeting between Japan, the United States, Australia, and India as intending to show a demonstration of force against Japan, which hosted the meeting,” Kishi said. “Also, the fact that this activity was held in the midst of the Quad summit meeting is deemed more provocative than other drills in the past.”
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He also expressed concerns that China is coordinating with Russia while the international community is taking steps to pressure it for its unjust war on Ukraine.
“China is acting together with the aggressor, Russia. We cannot help but be concerned about this and cannot overlook it,” he added.
Separately, the South Korean military also scrambled to deploy its fighter jets after the air patrol reached the country’s ADIZ. The Russian Defense Ministry, who called the response “escorts,” noted the two encounters in their statement.
“At some sections of the route, the strategic missile-carrying bombers were escorted by F-2 aircraft of the South Korean Air Force and F-15 jets of the Japanese Air Force,” the ministry said.
South Korea and Japan have supported the West’s bid to heavily sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and are opting to adopt similar sanctions to an extent. For one, Seoul has announced its plan to reduce its import of Russian oil.
Despite their country’s support, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida emphasized the need to avoid an unwanted escalation in the already tense Asian region.
“A grave incident which has fundamentally shaken the rule-of-law-based international order we value has happened since we met last September,” he said.
“Russian invasion into Ukraine squarely challenges the principles which are enshrined in the United Nations Charter. We should never, ever allow a similar incident to happen in the Indo-Pacific.”