Sino-Russian War Game Shrinks
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — This year’s bilateral Peace Mission exercise is smaller than its 2007 predecessor, leading some to view it as evidence of a cooling mutual desire for closer relations between China and Russia.
“The fact that Peace Mission 2009 is much smaller in scale and less sophisticated perhaps indicates the slowing, if not loss, of momentum in China-Russian ‘strategic partnership,’” said Wang Dong, a fellow at Peking University’s Center for International & Strategic Studies in Beijing.
“Geopolitically, this is problematic for both China and Russia, since both apparently have the strategic need of ‘banding together’ to counterweigh the perceived strategic pressure from the United States and its allies.”
China and Russia have attempted to improve relations with a variety of reciprocal political salutatory events. Holding this year’s exercise on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-Russian diplomatic ties is one example.
The exercise, which begins July 22 in China’s Shenyang Military Area, is not technically associated with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which China and Russia are members. Still, four other SCO members will send military observers: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The exercise is being conducted under the “Sino-Russian good-neighborly treaty of friendship and cooperation,” signed in 2001, said Christopher Brown, a senior research associate at the Washingtonbased Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
“This is similar to Peace Mission 2005, which was also a bilateral exercise, but they later tried to apply some tangential connection to the SCO by making a big show of inviting SCO members as observers and announcing the next Peace Mission would be a SCO exercise,” Brown said.
Held in Russia, the 2007 exercise involved 6,000 troops and 600 pieces of equipment, but this year there are only 3,000 troops and 300 pieces of equipment, Kashin said. Previous exercises were based on a scenario of “liberating” a small town captured by Islamic separatists.
But this year’s exercise “serves a different purpose and is more aimed at strengthening Russian-Chinese military interoperability, including the logistics systems. They still call it counterterrorist, but there is nothing counterterrorist about them,” Kashin said.
Message For The SCO?
The exercise might also have something to do with intimidating SCO members who have been less than happy with previous Peace Mission exercises that looked more like preparations to invade them, rather than liberate them from socalled terrorists.
“Its real purpose, as I understand, was to develop a scenario of countering a possible major uprising and political instability in Central Asia, especially countries like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan,” said Kashin.
Brown said that the the exercise, “in terms of both being bilateral and armor-centric, this has nothing to do with counter-terrorism.”
“In this case the separatism and extremism that they are likely concerned with centers on the other SCO members,” he said.
Shortly after the 2007 exercise the next SCO exercise entered the planning stages for 2010 in Kazakhstan, said Brown. This was an olive branch to the Chinese, who were blocked, intentionally or otherwise, from crossing Kazakh soil to enter Russia for Peace Mission 2007.
Brown asks, why spend a year planning and implementing Peace Mission 2009 when China and Russia can simply wait till 2010?
“It likely has something to do with the complaints on the part of the SCO members about the usefulness of the SCO Peace Mission exercises,” said Brown.
“The ‘Stans’ basically felt that Peace Mission 2007 was a waste of time and resources. Many comparing it to the old Soviet-style exercises in which the primary states do what they want, dragging along the smaller states.”
Brown said Peace Mission 2009 might be a Chinese and Russian attempt to force other SCO members to either accept Sino-Russian leadership of the SCO framework or face expulsion.
“Therefore, this type of signal is likely to have a very visceral impact,” said Brown. “In many ways, this is very similar to the Russianbased cyber-attack, soon after the use of that same weapon against Georgia, on Kyrgyzstan right before they sat down and signed the agreement of coercive economic aid in exchange for kicking the U.S. out of the Kant airbase.”