On May 20, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Shanghai to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.  The two heads of state announced the “China-Russia Joint Statement on a New Stage of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination,” and signed no less than 46 agreements on various matters of bilateral cooperation.  Later, on the same day, the two leaders attended the launch of “Joint Sea-2014,” a week-long China-Russia joint naval exercise in the East China Sea.

On May 21, with the two leaders looking on, Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom sealed a long-awaited gas contract with China’s state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).  On the same day, at the 4th summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Shanghai, President Xi Jinping proposed in his keynote address to make CICA a formal mechanism for Asian security cooperation, and President Putin applauded the idea.  In just two days, the two Chinese and Russian leaders built what could be called the modern-day Great Wall – in the form of full-scale “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination”

 

Joint Military Exercises Aimed at U.S.

The two leaders stood side by side at the opening ceremony of “Joint Sea-2014” and inspected the honor guards as their anthems blared in the background.  In this joint exercise, the two countries deployed Chinese missile destroyer Zhengzhou and Russian missile cruiser Varyag, in addition to 14 vessels, two submarines, nine fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, Russia’s newest fighter aircraft Sukhoi Su-30, China’s J-10 fighter jet, as well as special forces of both countries.  The exercise, which took place from May 20 through May 26, simulated nine operations, including anchorage defense, maritime assaults, anti-submarine combats, air defense as well as identification, rescue and escort missions.

A Russian expert announced on the Russian state broadcasting service Voice of Russia, “This will be an opportunity to show the western world that the military and political cooperation between Russia and China has advanced to a new level capable of denying foreign intervention.”  Voice of Russia also added, “From now on, the United States will have no excuse to stop the Russia-China strategic military alliance in the Asia Pacific region.”

What is most notable about the recent China-Russia joint exercise is that it took place in the northern waters of the East China Sea.  This area, which China declared a no-navigation zone and where it carried out its joint exercise and live fire drills, is 370km from the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, 200km from South Korea’s Jeju Island, and mere 47km from South Korea’s Ieodo.  It also partially overlaps with the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone.

Voice of Russia pointed out that the northern waters of the East China Sea where the exercise took place are “an area where the United States continuously carries out joint military exercises as a means to exert psychological pressure on China and Joseon (North Korea).”  It added, “The northern waters of the East China Sea, where joint ROK-US military exercises take place 2-3 times a year, is a very sensitive area for China in relation to U.S.-backed Japan, and the Russia-China joint military exercises are a countermeasure to continued ROK-US joint exercises.”

 

Beyond Sanctions – Economic Cooperation 

As the United States threatens sanctions against its gas exports to the European Union in relation to the Ukraine crisis, Russia turned to China to speed up their natural gas deal that had stalled for the past ten years.  Russia’s state-owned Gazprom and China’s state-owned CNPC agreed that starting in 2018, Russia will provide China with 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually for 30 years. This accounts for 23% of China’s gas consumption and 16% of Gazprom exports, and the deal is worth $400 billion.  Investment for infrastructure construction alone will require Russia and China to put down $55 billion and $25 billion respectively and amounts to total $77 billion.  Buoyed by the agreement with China, Russia is now turning it eyes to the rest of Asia and negotiating gas deals with other Asian nations.  Russia hopes to complete deals with India, South Korea, and Japan in the near future.

At the recent summit, the two countries signed agreements on various spheres of cooperation, including trade, investment, energy, advanced technology, electricity, space aviation, communication, and infrastructure construction, and focused on expanding economic cooperation and collaboration.  In a joint statement, the two leaders pledged to increase their bilateral trade volume, currently at $90 billion, to $100 billion in 2015 and $200 billion by 2020.  They agreed to connect China’s vision of the “Silk Road” economic belt and Russia’s trans-Eurasian rail project, and lead the way in Eurasia’s economic development.  Furthermore, Russian bank VTB and the Bank of China signed a deal to bypass the dollar and pay each other in their domestic currencies.

 

Cooperation in the International Arena

In their joint statement, the Russian and Chinese leaders expressed opposition to foreign interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and called on others to “abandon unilateral sanctions,” as well as “planning, supporting, financing or encouraging” a change in the constitutional systems of other countries.  “The two sides stressed that we should respect each country’s social and political systems, historical heritage, cultural traditions and independent choices and values,” they added, and made clear their principle of non-interference.  The two countries’ emphasis on their position of non-interference is interpreted as a direct jab at U.S. interference in the recent Ukraine crisis as well as in the South China Sea.

The two sides also acknowledged their important role in regional and global peace, security, and stability as permanent members of the UN Security Council, and pledged to strengthen cooperation through multiple frameworks, including the UN, G20, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), BRICS, and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building in Asia (CICA)

The next day, they demonstrated the force of their pledge for joint action in the international arena at the 4th summit of CICA.  In his keynote speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed creating a mechanism for Asian security cooperation based on the foundation of CICA.  In other words, he proposes to create a security cooperation mechanism for Asian nations excluding the United States.  Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed enthusiastic support.

China’s proposal is a direct counter to U.S. plans for the creation of an “Asian version of NATO” with the U.S.-Japan alliance at its center.  Just as NATO targeted the former Soviet Union as its main foe, the Asian version of NATO, as advocated by certain circles in the United States and Japan, is a plan to create a security mechanism in the Asia Pacific region aimed at China and North Korea.

CICA is a regional forum started through Kazakhstan’s initiative in 1992, and is composed of 26 member nations, including China, Russia, all the Central Asian countries and some Southeast Asian countries.  South Korea is a member country, while the United States and Japan have observer status.

 

Northeast Asia – Site of Conflict between US/Japan vs China/Russia

China and Russia also agreed to carry out Peace Mission 2014, a multinational anti-terrorism military drill under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization framework, in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China from August 24 through 29, 2014.  And Chinese president Xi Jinping plans to hold another summit with Russian president Putin at the APEC summit in Beijing in November 2014.  It will be the 8th China-Russia summit since Chinese president Xi Jingping took office in March 2013. China and Russia also agreed that in 2015, they will hold various memorial events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the world anti-fascist war and the Chinese peoples’ victory in the anti-Japanese war.

In this way, China and Russia are deepening and expanding their cooperation against U.S. hegemony in the areas of politics, military, security, economy, and international affairs.  And Northeast Asia is becoming the site of an intensifying power struggle between the United States (rebalancing to the Asia Pacific to avoid the decline of its global control) and Japan (using its alliance with the United States as leverage to remilitarize) versus China (rapidly rising as an economic and military power despite U.S. encirclement and containment) and Russia (turning its gaze to Asia in the face of U.S. and NATO expansion in Eastern Europe).  It’s high time to stop and think about what all this means for the future of the divided Korean peninsula, situated at the heart of the brewing storm.