Russian and Chinese bombers flew a joint patrol mission over the western Pacific near South Korea and Japan on Tuesday in a show of growing ties.
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced the joint patrol mission in a tweet Tuesday. Aerospace Forces of Russia and China conducted the second joint air patrol in the Asia-Pacific region #RussianArmy #AerospaceForces #RussiaChina.”
The joint air patrol included two Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers and four Chinese H-6K bombers flying together over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said the joint patrol flight was “carried out to deepen and develop the Russian-Chinese relations of the comprehensive partnership, further increase the level of interaction between the armed forces of the two countries, improve their capabilities to conduct joint action, and strengthen global strategic stability.”
China’s Ministry of Defense similarly said Tuesday’s patrol “aims to further develop the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination in the new era, and enhance the level of the two militaries’ strategic coordination and joint operational capability.”
Russia’s defense ministry said both nation’s aircraft flew in strict accordance with international law and avoided the airpaces of other countries during the Tuesday bomber patrol.
“The event was held as part of the implementation of the military cooperation plan for 2020 and is not aimed against third countries,” Russia said of the flight.
The flight comes as China and Russia have maintained a strategic partnership in recent years, but have suggested deepening that partnership in recent months. In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin alluded to the possibility of an even stronger military alliance between the two countries in the future, saying “We don’t need it, but, theoretically, it’s quite possible to imagine it,” and “the time will show how it will develop.”
The potential for a full military alliance between Russia and China also comes as the U.S. has sought to form an “alliance of democracies” to counter China’s actions in the South China Sea. Russian relations with the West have also sunk to post-Cold War lows following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Tuesday’s patrol is the second time Russian and Chinese bombers have flown together in a joint air patrol. In July of 2019, Russian and Chinese aircraft participated in a similar joint air patrol over the same area, according to the Associated Press.
China also said the patrol is now part of an annual military cooperation plan with Russia.
Last year, China and Russia joined with Iran for a set of naval war games in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman. Iran is another country China and Russia have worked more closely with in recent years as Iran and the U.S. have also seen increasingly strained relations in recent years.