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China and Russia begin naval drills in the South China Sea on Monday in what Beijing calls a "routine exercise," but the move could revive tensions in the long-running territorial conflict.
Over the next eight days, both nations will carry out rescue and anti-submarine operations as well as live-fire drills, island defense and landing operations, Reuters reported, citing a statement by the Chinese navy. The drills, first announced in July, are supposedly the largest naval project ever taken together by the two countries.
On surface, the drills aren't surprising. Both countries boast a close relationship, reflected by years of technology transfers, arm sales and a common aim of preventing U.S. hegemony in Asia-Pacific.
Beijing has publicly stated that the bilateral drills are not aimed at any other country but the timing of the operation could lead the international community to think otherwise, said Jingdong Yuan, associate professor at University of Sydney.
The Hague rejected Beijing's declaration of sovereignty in the resource-rich South China Sea, paving a victory for the countries which also hold claims there, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei. China has dismissed the international court's decision, resulting in tangible tensions during recent meetings of Asian leaders in Laos and Hangzhou.
The drills are significant for China as not only do they demonstrate the extent of Russia's support, they also suggest Moscow isn't concerned about other claimant states, said Yuan.
That could have implications for Russian foreign policy. Like Washington, Moscow has also embarked on an 'Asia pivot.' Since 2010, Moscow has fostered close economic and defense partnerships with various Southeast Asian nations and initially adopted a neutral stance on the South China Sea issue.