China declares Vostok 2018 war games a success as troops are ‘toughened up for battle’
China’s military says it will build on ‘experience of decision making, coordination and joint action’ and continue to boost the ‘overseas combat capabilities’ of troops
China’s participation in Russia’s largest military exercise since the cold war was a “political and strategic” success, the People’s Liberation Army said on Monday, as Moscow announced it would hold similarly large-scale drills every five years.
The Northern Theatre Command, the Chinese military region that borders Russia, said in an online statement that Vostok 2018 showed the “determination to cooperate” of the troops taking part and that Chinese officers had been “toughened up for battle”.
The command will build on the “experience of decision making, coordination and joint action” gained during the exercise and continue to “boost the troops’ overseas combat capabilities and readiness”, it said on its official social media account.
Russia and China said before the start of the exercise – which also included Mongolia – that its aim was to boost the counter-attacking capabilities of their militaries and enhance cooperation between the nations.
All of the Chinese troops that took part in the drills, which started on September 11 and ran for seven days, had now returned home, the command’s statement said.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Sunday that large-scale exercises were the only way to measure the effectiveness of the country’s massive spending on its armed forces.
“As we spend such large amounts of money on the army and the navy, we need to see where we are going and be sure that everything is all right,” state news agency TASS quoted him as saying.
As a result, Moscow was planning to stage major war games every five years, he said.
Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow and chairman of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Programme at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, said Shoigu’s comments seemed to suggest that China would be invited to join future exercises in Russia’s eastern region.
“The two countries have entered a new chapter in military cooperation,” he said. “It was unprecedented for Russia to invite a non-aligned nation to take part in such an exercise, and that cooperation with China is not going to be a one-off.”
The Vostok 2018 drill was the largest staged in Russia since Zapad-81 at the height of the cold war in 1981, and involved about 300,000 troops under Shoigu’s command, 1,000 aircraft and 36,000 military vehicles.
The Chinese contingent consisted of 3,200 troops, more than 1,000 vehicles, six fixed-wing aircraft and 24 helicopters. The latter comprised six Mi-171s, which were bought from Russia in 2014 and were making their first appearance in such a drill, nine Z-9s and nine Z-19s.
Shi Ze, a director of the Chinese Centre for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said Vostok 2018 indicated a high level of trust between China and Russia.
“[It] shows that Sino-Russian relations have reached a new high,” he said, adding that the two countries were keen to strengthen their alliance amid their respective troubles with the West.
In an article published by China’s official military newspaper, PLA Daily, on Monday, Zhu Zhangsheng, a researcher at the Euro-Asian Social Development Research Institute, a think tank under China’s State Council, said that ties Beijing and Moscow had also been strengthened by the visit to Russia last week of Chinese President Xi Jinping.