A Chinese soldier waves farewell to Russian fleets as the Chinese-Russian joint naval drill concludes in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province, China, September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA. – RTSOJ3R
Chinese warships started exercises in the Baltic Sea for the first time, conducting a joint drill with Russia in a further sign of how the two countries are expanding their global reach through ever-closer military co-operation. China and Russia have stressed that Joint Sea 2017 is just the latest in a series of regular joint manoeuvres. But the Baltic states and Poland are unsettled by Russia, which they accuse of regular military provocation close to their borders, conducting exercises on their doorstep alongside a quasi-ally.
Following a simulation exercise last weekend, three Chinese and 10 Russian warships, as well as aircraft and helicopters, began practising live-fire combat against submarines, other warships and aircraft, the two militaries said. China has sent one of its most modern warships, the Type 052D destroyer Hefei, which entered service in December 2015. It carries cruise missiles, anti-aircraft missiles and torpedoes. The exercise is being led by a joint command in Baltiysk, the home port of Russia’s Baltic fleet in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad between Lithuania and Poland.
Russia and China have been holding joint naval exercises every year since 2012. Last year, they rattled China’s south-eastern neighbours with joint drills in the South China Sea, where Beijing is embroiled in territorial disputes with five coastal states. In 2015, their exercise took place in the Mediterranean, against a backdrop of mounting tension between Russia and the west over Ukraine and Moscow’s preparations for military intervention in Syria. The Chinese flotilla also held a live-fire drill in the Mediterranean on July 10 this year on its way to the Baltic, the People’s Liberation Army said.
Tuesday’s drill comes as the Chinese navy makes its first permanent overseas deployment in more than 60 years at a base in Djibouti, in a further reflection of its rapidly growing global ambition. “The main goals of this exercise are to further develop our bilateral relationship and to work out and improve the organisation for joint action at sea,” a Russian ministry of defence spokesman said. Although this year’s drill appears to be smaller in scale than that in the Mediterranean two years ago, Russia’s western neighbours are watching it closely.