Russian and Chinese forces teamed up in a set of joint military drills last week focused on hunting enemy submarines. The drills indicate the two countries may be concerned with how to counter U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) submarine forces in a potential future conflict in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Chinese military’s official China Military Online news agency announced the joint military drills, dubbed Joint Sea 2022. The drills, which ran from December 21 to 27 saw Chinese and Russian naval forces conducting a range of sea operations in the waters off Zhoushan and Taizhou in China’s Zhejiang Province, which sits directly north of Taiwan.
The drills saw Chinese and Russian naval forces conducting a range of sea operations including blockade and control drills; visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exercises; air defense drills; rescues and anti-submarine warfare drills.
“The ships of both countries, supported by anti-submarine aviation, jointly searched for the mock enemy’s submarine, and launched a salvo of rocket-propelled depth charges,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said.
“All the courses involve operations that the Chinese navy might use in the future while coping with maritime challenges and safeguarding regional peace and stability,” said Zhang Huiwu, a commander from the Chinese navy.
The location of the drills near Taiwan, along with the focus on blockade operations and anti-submarine warfare drills indicates China is focusing its military practice time on countering outside intervention against a potential future Chinese effort to seize control of Taiwan.
These particular drills are in line with China’s broader anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) military strategy in the Indo-Pacific region.
Undersea warfare is one domain where the U.S. holds a clear technological edge over China. According to a September Pentagon report on China’s military capabilities, the Chinese Navy is “improving its antisubmarine warfare (ASW) capabilities through the development of its surface combatants and special mission aircraft, but it continues to lack a robust deep-water ASW capability.”
In 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration announced a new security pact and military technology sharing partnership between the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia, known as AUKUS. The Biden administration launched AUKUS along with an announcement that the U.S. and U.K. would share nuclear submarine propulsion technology with Australia.
China criticised the formation of AUKUS. Last year, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the AUKUS partnership “has seriously undermined regional peace and stability, intensified the arms race and undermined international non-proliferation efforts” and “proves once again that they are using nuclear exports as a tool for geopolitical game.”
The joint drills also serve as another sign of the growing partnership between Russia and China.
The international community has increasingly isolated Russia after it launched its invasion of Ukraine in February. The U.S. is also ramping up its partnerships in the Indo-Pacific as a counterbalance to China. As a result of this western pressure, China and Russia have drawn closer together in recent years.
“The Chinese side is willing to work with the Russian side to continuously implement high-level strategic cooperation between the two countries, safeguard common interests and promote the development of the international order in a more just and reasonable direction,” Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi said in September.