Joint Russia and China patrol over the Pacific signals stronger military ties between Moscow and Beijing
A Chinese H-6K bomber being intercepted by a Taiwanese F-16 fighter earlier this year. Photograph: Taiwan defence ministry/AFP/Getty Images
The Guardian- Justin McCurry and agencies
Japan and South Korea have scrambled fighter jets to track Russian and Chinese bombers which flown a joint patrol mission over the western Pacific in a show of increasingly close military ties between Moscow and Beijing.
The Russian military said a pair of its Tu-95 strategic bombers and four Chinese H-6K bombers flew over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea on Tuesday.
Japan’s air self-defence forces scrambled fighter jets to track the bombers, which flew over the disputed Takeshima/Dokdo islands in the Sea of Japan, the Kyodo news agency said, quoting the defence ministry.
The islands are controlled by South Korea but also claimed by Japan. The Russian and Chinese planes also flew over the Tsushima Strait separating Japan and the southernmost point of the Korean peninsula, as well as an area near the southern island of Okinawa, home to tens of thousands of US troops.
South Korea also scrambled jets after the Russian and Chinese planes “in preparation for accidental situations” after they entered the country’s “air defence identification zone,” according to the Yonhap news agency.
The South Korean military and foreign ministry both contact their Russian and Chinese counterparts to express their concerns over the incident.
Russia’s defence ministry said the joint mission was intended to “develop and deepen the comprehensive Russia-China partnership, further increase the level of cooperation between the two militaries, expand their ability for joint action and strengthen strategic stability”.
The ministry added that the patrol flight “wasn’t directed against any third countries”.
Tuesday’s mission was the second such flight since a July 2019 patrol over the same area.
It follows the Russian president Vladimir Putin’s statement in October that the idea of a future Russia-China military alliance could not be ruled out – a signal of deepening military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing amid growing tensions in their relations with the US.
Until that moment, Russia and China had hailed their “strategic partnership” but rejected any talk about the possibility of forming a military alliance.
Putin also noted in October that Russia had been sharing highly sensitive military technologies with China that helped significantly bolster its defence capability.
Russia has sought to develop stronger ties with China as its relations with the west deteriorated to post-cold war lows over issues such as Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
AP contributed reporting