- When Taiwanese military forces launched a combined operations
exercise off Tsoying in the Taiwan Strait last week, it was not hard to
guess who the "enemy" was.
- Mines and depth charges were detonated in simulated sinkings
of invading landing craft and torpedoes were fired at notionally hostile
frigates and submarines. The Taipei Times said it was Taiwan's biggest
show of force in years.
- But China, whose threats to seize the "renegade
province" and recent anti-secession law make it the main focus of
Taiwan's attentions, is flexing its military muscles, too.
- Next week will see far larger war games involving Chinese
and Russian troops in and around the Shandong peninsula in the Yellow sea.
Regional observers say such military cooperation is unprecedented and could
mark the start of something new.
- "The China-Russia exercise is intended to send a
message to Taiwan," said Andrew Yang of the Chinese Council of Advanced
Policy Studies in Taipei. "But it's also a very significant move in
terms of the developing relationship between Russia and China and joint
efforts to manage regional security.
- "China considers it's time to increase strategic
cooperation with Russia to balance the US role in the region. Both are
interested in demonstrating this is a multipolar rather than a unipolar
world," Dr Yang said.
- Russia was already China's biggest arms and energy supplier.
Bilateral collaboration would progressively deepen not only in the Asia-Pacific
area but also in central Asia, he predicted.
- The prospect of a revamped Beijing-Moscow "axis"
is feeding American paranoia about the challenge to US security and economic
interests posed by China's rise.
- American fears were illustrated recently by intense (and
successful) political opposition to a Chinese bid to buy Unocal, a US oil
company; and by the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which was narrowly
approved by Congress after the spectre of a Chinese takeover in Washington's
backyard was raised.
- Max Boot, of the Council on Foreign Relations thinktank
in New York, warned ominously last month of a Chinese "stealth war"
involving financial, resource, psychological, media and even ecological
- Some US worries have a basis in fact. A recent Pentagon
report re-emphasised concerns that China's military build-up could in time
pose a "credible threat" to the US and its allies in the Asia-Pacific
theatre. Japan, whose relations with both China and Russia could be better,
offered a similar assessment this month.
- Working through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
(SCO) which embraces Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan,
China and Russia are also pursuing a common security and economic agenda
in central Asia.
- An SCO call for the US to vacate its post-9/11 military
bases in the area closely foreshadowed Uzbekistan's expulsion this month
of American troops.
- But while seeking to reduce US influence, a more important,
shared target is "terrorism, separatism and extremism". By this,
China and Russia mean Islamic resistance from Xinjiang to Chechnya - although
Beijing also includes the non-Muslim "splittists" of Taiwan.
- When the regime of the Uzbek president, Islam Karimov,
killed supposed Islamists in Andijan in May, the US and the EU protested
- and Russia and China cheered. Lack of respect for human rights and democracy
are two other binding characteristics of the budding Moscow-Beijing alliance.
- But Jennifer Moll, of the Foreign Policy Centre in London,
said enhanced China-Russia collaboration, underpinned by their 2001 Friendship
Treaty, did not necessarily mark the beginning of a new Asian "Great
- "They definitely share a lot of objections to US
policies," Ms Moll said. "But it would be wrong to define the
relationship simply in terms of anti-Americanism."
- Fiona Hill, of the Brookings Institution in Washington,
suggested the significance of the alliance could be exaggerated, however
unsettling it appeared in Taipei or Kiev.
- "China is a rising power but Russia is a declining
one," Ms Hill said. Each country remained deeply suspicious of the
other. And given their respective weaknesses, she said, each had reason
to fear - and to court - American power, of which more tomorrow.
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