WASHINGTON: A joint strategic bomber exercise conducted by Russia and China on Tuesday (May 24) demonstrates the extent of the two countries’ alignment, according to a senior US administration official.
The Russian defense ministry had already confirmed the combined patrol, which it said lasted 13 hours over the Japanese and East China seas and included Russian Tu-95 and Chinese Xian H-6 strategic bombers.
According to Russia, planes from the Japanese and South Korean air forces trailed the Russian and Chinese airplanes for part of the drill.
The patrol was also confirmed by China’s defense ministry, which stated that it was part of an annual military practice.
According to a US official, this is the first joint military exercise between China and Russia since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24, and it comes at the close of US President Joe Biden’s trip to the region.
“We believe it demonstrates that China remains eager to closely align with Russia, including through military cooperation,” the person said, adding that such operations must be planned in advance.
“China is not abandoning Russia. Instead, the exercise demonstrates that China is willing to assist Russia in defending its east while Russia fights in its west,” added the individual.
According to a senior administration official, the bomber exercise demonstrated that Russia will support China in its territorial conflicts with neighbors in the East and South China Seas.
It was unclear whether the drills were timed to coincide with Biden’s first trip as president to Asia, where he has visited allies South Korea and Japan and joined the leaders of democracy Japan, India, and Australia – known as the Quad – for their second in-person summit on Tuesday.
Throughout the tour, Biden has emphasized that the US will stand with its allies and partners to strive for a free and open Indo-Pacific area, in part to offset China’s growing influence in the region.
Just weeks before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Beijing and Moscow established a “no-limits” cooperation, and China has declined to condemn the move.
The two nations have previously undertaken such exercises, including what Russia said as their first collaborative long-range air patrol in the region in 2019. They staged large-scale military drills in China in August, involving around 10,000 troops.
US officials believe they still have no evidence that Beijing has supplied material support to Russia’s war in Ukraine, a step that might result in penalties against China similar to some of the sweeping measures Washington and its allies have imposed on Moscow.