Chinese and Russian warships passed through the Tsugaru Strait, a key Japanese water, during their first joint naval patrols in the western Pacific, Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced last week.
The joint naval patrols, exercise Joint Sea 2021, began on October 14 and concluded on Saturday, October 23. The joint drills saw Russian and Chinese warships pass through the Tsugaru Strait, which separates the main Japanese island of Honshu from the northern island of Hokkaido. The Tsugaru Strait is considered international waters, but is still part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The drills also took place in the Sea of Japan, situated between Japan and the Russian and Chinese mainland.
The joint drills included 10 warships of the Russian Navy and China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The Russian ships participating included the large anti-submarine ships Admiral Tributs and Admiral Panteleev, the corvettes Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov and Gromkiy and the radar ship Marshal Krylov.
The Chinese ships participating included the destroyers Kun Ming and Nan Chang, the corvettes Bin Zhou and Liu Zhou, and the integrated supply ship Dun Ping Hu.
Russia’s defense ministry said the purpose of the joint patrol was to “demonstrate the state flags of Russia and China, maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as protect the objects of maritime economic activity of the two countries.”
China’s PLA said the joint patrols “have further developed the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era, and effectively improved both sides’ capabilities of joint operations, which was conducive to jointly maintaining international and regional strategic stability.”
The Russian and Chinese warships practiced joint tactical maneuvering and other training and covered more than 1,700 nautical miles of distance.
On Monday, Japan’s Ministry of Defense described the joint drills by Russia and China as “unusual.”
CNN reported that while China and Russia presented the drills as a means of promoting regional stability they will likely have the opposite effect for Japan.
Drew Thompson, a former United States Defense Department official, told CNN the drills “will reinforce the conclusion that Japan has already drawn that China potentially presents a threat to Japan and therefore it has to increase its own defense spending and readiness to deal with it.”
China and Russia have both placed added pressure on Japan in recent months. In April, China sailed an aircraft carrier group near the Japanese island of Okinawa. Earlier this month, Russia conducted a series of missile drills in the Sea of Japan.
Amid the pressure from both Russia and China, as well as recent North Korean missile tests, Japan has been looking to expand its own military capabilities, including by adding offensive capabilities.
Japan recently joined the U.S., India and Australia for the Malabar naval drills near India.