As Tensions With U.S. Rise, China and Russia Showcase Ties

The USS Theodore Roosevelt arrives at Changi Naval Base, Singapore, April 2 (USN)

Published Apr 3, 2018 8:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

As U.S. and Chinese diplomats squared off over trade issues on Tuesday, Chinese defense minister Gen. Wei Fenghe made a trip to Moscow to emphasize the PLA's strong ties with the Russian military. 

In comments before a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, Wei said that he picked Moscow for his first trip abroad in order to “show the world . . . [the] firm determination of our armed forces to strengthen strategic cooperation" and “let the Americans know about the close ties between the armed forces of China and Russia.” 

The two nations' navies began conducting high-level joint operations last year. China's navy sent warships to the Baltic last July to participate in Russian naval drills, including live-fire exercises, and the PLA(N) joined the Russian navy again for further drills off North Korea in September. 

Tuesday's meeting was set against the backdrop of an escalating trade war: the U.S. has announced steep tariffs on Chinese steel, aluminum and 1,300 other products, and China is expected to retaliate with its own tariffs on American agricultural goods. On Tuesday, Chinese ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai responded to news of another round of U.S. duties by saying that "as the Chinese saying goes, it is only polite to reciprocate." Cui promised that there would be "corresponding measures of equal scale and strength against U.S. products."

Relations between the U.S. and Russia are also tense, thanks in large part to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the continued Russian occupation of Crimea. Conversely, Moscow objects to American sanctions on its oil and gas industry over its involvement in Ukraine, and the Russian military dislikes the presence of American forces in Eastern Europe. 
"China and Russia are developing closer ties not only due to their previous good cooperation but also because of changes in the international environment. Western countries are putting political pressure on Russia and the U.S. is provoking China into a trade war," said Prof. Gao Fei of the China Foreign Affairs University, speaking to Global Times. 

Drills in the South China Sea

As Gen. Wei traveled to Moscow, China's navy was beginning a large-scale naval drill in the South China Sea, with the aircraft carrier Liaoning and 40 other PLA(N) vessels participating. China's military is also preparing for sea trials for the nation's first indigenously-built aircraft carrier, the conventionally-powered Type 001A, which will set out for sea for the first time at the end of this month. 

The U.S. also has an enhanced naval presence in the Western Pacific. The USS Wasp and USS Bonhomme Richard expeditionary strike groups are in the East China Sea, the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group is in Yokosuka, and the USS Carl Vinson CSG is in the mid-Pacific after finishing her own drills in the South China Sea. In addition, on Monday, the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and her strike group arrived in Singapore after a deployment in the Middle East. She is accompanied by the cruiser USS Bunker Hill and the destroyer USS Sampson. The U.S. Navy says that after her port call in Singapore, the Roosevelt will continue a regularly scheduled deployment in the Western Pacific, including operations to address "shared maritime security concerns." An unconfirmed report by a Hong Kong-based tabloid indicated that the Roosevelt may be headed for more drills in the South China Sea.