(Foreign Affairs) The South China Sea might be one of the most contested places on earth, but until last week, at least, one regional player had been conspicuously absent from the fray. Russia had staked out a precarious neutrality, maintaining a longstanding friendship with Vietnam while providing general support for China’s regional positions. On September 12, however, the balance came into question when Russia joined China for eight days of joint naval exercises in Chinese waters near Zhanjiang in the south of Guangdong province, which is the headquarters for China’s South China Sea fleet.
China and Russia have held joint naval drills annually since 2012, but the Joint Sea-2016 is the first to take place in the South China Sea. Although Russian diplomats reportedly negotiated with their counterparts to ensure that the drills would be held in waters that are indisputably Chinese, the eight-day exercises involved island and reef seizure maneuvers, as well as anti-submarine operations, air defense, and naval and air operations. Wang Hai, deputy commander of the Chinese Navy, who is directing the Chinese fleet during these exercises, said that they were designed to enhance Sino-Russian cooperation in countering “common security threats.” […]
Read More © Foreign Affairs