CHINA and Russia concluded their week-long joint military drill in the South China Sea on Monday. Starting from 2012, both countries have made their annual naval exercises the largest among all the joint military drills they run. Although the recent exercise is a regular activity, it has been thrust into the limelight on account of the high tensions in the South China Sea. The exercise is not only actual combat training, but has also touched off a media war. There are three kinds of countries and regions paying close attention to the exercise.
The first kind is the US, Japan and Australia. Although lacking immediate interests in the South China Sea, they have the intention to make waves in the region.
They are concerned about the naval drill because it might disturb their current military deployments in the South China Sea and the drill may herald closer military cooperation between China and Russia.
After continuously sending warships into the South China Sea, the US is amassing its allies to conduct a new round of joint patrols in the waters, and Japan has confirmed it will join in. The US’ reinforced military presence obviously targets China, and the large Sino-Russian military drill is deemed by the US and its allies as a pressing counterforce, especially considering China and Russia have added island-seizing to the agenda of the drill.
Therefore, the exercise has generated apprehension in the US, Japan and Australia, as they are aware that the drill can significantly improve the combat capability of the Chinese and Russian navies for certain military targets.
The second kind is other claimants of the South China Sea such as Vietnam and the Philippines. As a long-time follower of the US in its rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, Manila expects Washington’s endorsement for the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute in exchange.
The Philippines has been emboldened by the US so it is assertive in causing troubles around Huangyan Island and Ren’ai Reef, and launching an arbitration case against China. China’s constant self-restraint in face of the Philippines’ aggression has fostered Manila’s unscrupulousness.
Even though new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has shown some willingness to seek a rapprochement with China, how much the kindness can do remains uncertain. So China and the Philippines will remain stuck in a vulnerable relationship, and the military drill will alert the Philippines.
Vietnam will find its previous efforts to stave off Russia’s endorsement for China in the South China Sea disputes end in failure. Recent years have seen Hanoi trying its best to draw closer to Moscow by investing hugely in imports of Russian-made weaponry, calling for joint exploitation of oil in the South China Sea, and even inviting Russia back to the strategically important Cam Ranh Bay. However, the naval drill in the South China Sea has shown to the world that Russia stands on China’s side, which has upset Vietnam a lot.
The third kind is Taiwan. After the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party regained power in Taiwan this May, new leader Tsai Ing-wen’s ambivalence about the 1992 Consensus has filled Taiwan’s future with a lot of uncertainties. Since reunifying Taiwan is an unswerving goal for the mainland, Taiwan is fretting about the mainland’s military or diplomatic moves, be they directly or indirectly related to the ultimate goal.
The military drill, in which island-seizing is an important training session, is very likely to put Taiwan on edge. The military drill will consolidate the Taiwan leadership’s understanding about the mainland’s determination and capability of reunifying the country.
[The author is a professor at the University of International Relations. email@example.com].