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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China, Russia Kick Off War Games

China Daily / ReutersRussian soldiers making practice parachute jumps on Tuesday in Taonan, China, ahead of the military exercises.
BEIJING — China and Russia kicked off joint military exercises Wednesday, with the drills seen as a chance to beef up anti-terrorism cooperation after a recent flare-up of violence in the Xinjiang region.

The “Peace Mission 2009” five-day exercises in northeast China come weeks after China’s worst ethnic unrest in decades between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in the far western region of Xinjiang, which killed at least 197 people.

“To some extent, the July 5 Xinjiang riot pushed forward anti-terrorism cooperation between China and Russia,” said Major Wang Haiyun, a former Chinese military attache to Russia, the China Daily newspaper reported.

Russia has also been grappling with rising violence in Ingushetia, Dagestan and Chechnya. In addition, Russia and China are wary of a rising tide of instability in Central Asia that has spilled over from Afghanistan.

“The situation in Central Asia itself, including Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, is not so good, so that’s the most likely area of practical cooperation. And in fact, they’re learning new ways to fight against Islamic insurgents and Uighurs,” said Vasily Kashin, a Chinese military analyst at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies with the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The two countries are core members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which some analysts see as an attempt to form an alternative military bloc to NATO to counter the rising threats of separatism and extremism in Central Asia. The SCO’s members also include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. “Some NATO officials … fancy it is up to them to look after world order, performing the role of the world’s policeman,” said Viktor Litovkin, a military analyst. “But the situation in Afghanistan shows that NATO without Russia, without assistance from the Central Asian states, China and other leading nations of the region, is unable to deal with the Taliban and al-Qaida by itself.”

Some analysts, however, said the smaller scale of the current exercise compared with a similar one in 2007 under the SCO reflected a recent cooling of military ties between Moscow and Beijing.

“In reality, they are downgrading or reducing their military ties for the past couple of years,” said Andrew Yang, head of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan. “[The Chinese have] already reached a stage where they can produce or develop their own indigenous and advanced weapons systems. They’re no longer totally reliant on Russian support.”

When asked what new weapons Russia would show off during the drills, Litovkin said he believed that there would not be any.

The exercise will involve some 3,000 army and air force personnel and more than 40 fighters and helicopter gunships. Zvezda state television said the movement of Russian troops and weapons to China for the exercises was the biggest deployment of forces abroad by the nation’s Far Eastern Military District since World War II. A Chinese fighter-bomber crashed during preparations for the military drill with Russia on Sunday, killing two pilots.