China hailed the exercises as its military’s largest deployment for maneuvers with a foreign country. State-run news media gave widespread coverage to the action, which included live firing drills.
The commander of the Chinese fleet, Maj. Gen. Yang Junfei, told Chinese reporters that the goal was to strengthen “strategic trust” and improve coordination between the two navies.
From Beijing’s point of view, there was a message for Washington, too: As China rapidly builds its maritime power and the United States begins to deploy more of its naval and air assets back to the Pacific Ocean as part of its new focus on Asia, China will not stand alone.
The Obama administration’s decision to send more military power to Asia is widely interpreted in China as a containment policy, leading in part, some Chinese analysts say, to China’s seeking stronger military and economic relations with Russia, a country it has long regarded with suspicion.
“This shows unprecedented good relations between China and Russia,” said Professor Wang Ning, director of the Center for Russian Studies at the Shanghai International Studies University. “It shows that the two countries will support each other on the global stage.”
Both countries want a more multipolar world in which the United States is less dominant, he said.
After being named China’s president in March, Xi Jinping made his first foreign visit to Russia, where he held talks that culminated in the announcement last month of a $270 billion deal for Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil company, to double oil supplies to China.
For the exercises in the Japan Sea, China sent seven warships, including a guided-missile destroyer with Aegis-type radars that track and guide weapons to destroy enemy targets, and missile frigates with antisubmarine abilities, the Chinese Navy said. The Russian lineup included the flagship of its Pacific fleet, the guided-missile cruiser Varyag, and a Kilo-class submarine.
“This is our strongest lineup ever in a joint naval drill,” General Yang said. “Our forces come from two fleets — the North Sea Fleet and the South Sea Fleet — and include seven ships, three helicopters and one special warfare unit.”
The diversity of vessels and the more sophisticated exercises illustrated a sudden deepening of the military cooperation between Russia and China, said Nan Li, associate professor in the strategic research department at the United States Naval War College in Newport, R.I.
In a joint naval exercise last year between the two countries, maneuvers were restricted to counterterrorism and piracy, he said. This time the exercises included fleet air defense, antisubmarine warfare and surface warfare.
But there are limitations on how close the two countries are militarily, Mr. Li said. The planning for the joint exercise seemed to be ad hoc, he said. Russia and China are well short of being formal allies and would not come to the help of the other in a “real contingency,” Mr. Li said.
Still, he said, the exercise off Vladivostok was comparable in number and size of ships to naval exercises the United States conducts with countries that are not allies.
The drills by the Russian and Chinese warships were watched closely by Japan, a treaty ally of the United States now in a serious maritime and political dispute with China over the sovereignty of islands known as the Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.
Indeed, undermining the United States’ alliance with Japan was one of the goals of the joint exercise, according to the Russian-language version of a news portal, China.org, that is run by China’s State Council Information Office.
“We can assume that they are an attempt to resist the ongoing U.S.-Japan alliance,” a report on the news portal said last week before the exercises began. “Strictly speaking, most of the forces of the Russian Pacific Fleet are aimed at blocking the U.S.-Japanese island chain of primary defense.”
China had a similar aim, the report said. But because neither China nor Russia is strong enough on their its to break the U.S.-Japan alliance, they had chosen to intensify a “deep strategic cooperation” toward that goal.
Last month, the United States Navy and Marine Corps held joint amphibious exercises with Japan’s Self Defense Force off the coast of Southern California, maneuvers that were treated with skepticism in the Chinese news media.
Bree Feng contributed research.