Russia is set to join a military exercise in Northwest China with the theme of jointly safeguarding regional security and stability in August. It will be the first joint drill to be held in China since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, displaying a high level of mutual trust between the two militaries while also eyeing security and stability in Central Asia as the US irresponsibly withdraws troops from Afghanistan, experts said.
The Zapad/Interaction-2021 exercise will be held in the Qingtongxia Joint Tactical Training Base in Northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region from early to mid-August with the theme of jointly safeguarding regional security and stability, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense, announced at a regular press conference on Thursday.
It is the first time that China will host a joint drill with another country since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, and the first time the name Zapad/Interaction will be used for an exercise, observers said.
The two sides will set up joint headquarters, as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Western Theater Command and Russia’s Eastern Military District will dispatch more than 10,000 personnel, multiple types of aircraft, artillery pieces and armored equipment in exercises to test joint reconnaissance, early warning, electronic information attack and strike capabilities, Wu said.
Judging from the participating troops, related equipment and exercise subjects, the Zapad/Interaction-2021 is a large-scale strategic drill featuring some of the world’s most advanced weapons and equipment as well as tactics, a Chinese military expert who asked to remain anonymous told the Global Times on Thursday.
Since 2018, China has participated in the Vostok-2018, Tsentr-2019 and Kavkaz-2020 strategic drills in Russia. This will also be the first time that China will host a strategic drill that will see a foreign military invited, and the first time Russian forces will enter the Qingtongxia military base, observers said.
The purpose of the exercise is to consolidate the comprehensive strategic partnership in a new era between China and Russia, deepen the pragmatic cooperation and traditional friendship between the two militaries, and further display the determination and ability of both sides to combat terrorist forces and maintain regional peace and security, Wu said.
China and Russia are maintaining regular annual exercises despite the difficulties posed by COVID-19, and this has reflected the necessity to boost the two militaries’ joint capabilities to deal with regional and global challenges amid special situations. War could happen despite a pandemic, or a pandemic could happen during a war, a Chinese expert on international affairs told the Global Times on Thursday, requesting anonymity.
On Wednesday, Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe held talks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, as they attended the Defense Ministers’ Meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Member States.
The exercise also takes the changing situation in Afghanistan into consideration, the Chinese international affairs expert said, noting that the US’ irresponsible troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has left a burden for neighboring countries. As major powers, China and Russia need to play their roles, jointly safeguard regional peace and stability, and prevent the development of terrorist forces in the region.
Although the US is leaving Afghanistan, the presence of the US military will still be there, as well as in Central and South Asia, so China and Russia need to prepare to jointly defend their strategic corridors, the expert said.