Beijing scheduled its most recent naval exercise between 10 and 14 July, in tandem with the NATO summit in Lithuania. China disclosed prior to the exercise that its cutting-edge naval vessels and live ammunition would be utilized. The Bohai Bay, northeast China, was selected as the location for the military exercise.
These Chinese maneuvers, which are hardly ever missed in any given month, have started to be seen as a “response tool” Beijing employs in response to anything it deems to be a threat to the “security stability” formula it has adopted and is attempting to impose and consolidate in its crucial field, which is not without issues and worries.
At the Shanghai Organization summit at the beginning of this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s commitment to “safeguard peace and tranquility in the region”, stressing that the countries of the region share responsibility for maintaining this peace and must work together toward this goal. This speech has the usual tone of peace that China uses in international and regional forums, but for the first time, it comes hand in hand with an unprecedented increase in the effectiveness and readiness of the country’s armed forces.
Beijing appears to rely heavily on military maneuvers to achieve this goal, the most recent of which took place in April and included a “simulation” to impose complete encirclement of the island of Taiwan. During the exercise, units of the Chinese Navy and Air Force participated in joint training operations to cut off the island from its regional surroundings.
Remarkably, this drill was initiated at that time in response to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to the United States. At the time, China issued a statement that harshly criticized both countries, stating that what is described as a “transit trip” is, in fact, a major provocation by trying to rely on the United States in pursuit of independence.
Comparing the armies of 145 countries, the Chinese army is currently ranked third in the world. However, the most significant fact is that in 2023, its naval forces were ranked first in the world. According to recent data from GlobalFirepower, patrol vessels make up the majority of the Chinese navy’s fleet, making up 35 percent of its total force. Corvettes and submarines follow, making up 18 percent and 17 percent of the Chinese navy’s total forces, respectively. China has the largest submarine and frigate fleet in the world, with 78 submarines and 43 frigates in total. When it comes to combined arms, China has the second- and third-largest aircraft carriers and helicopter carriers in the world, respectively, and the second-largest destroyer force (50 destroyers).
China’s interest in maintaining its naval fleet’s dominant position (which is already the first in the world with 730 total assets) reflects the scope of its concern and interest in consolidating its sweeping superiority in a region contested by competition and alliances.
Russian forces are taking part in these latest maneuvers for the second month in a row, following their participation in China’s air exercises on 6 June.
Given the maritime nature of this exercise, the Russian army participated with the two frigates Gromkiy and Sovershennyy, which are part of the Russian Pacific Fleet, whose main base is located in Vladivostok, the largest port in the Russian Far East. In light of the current state of competition and eagerness to enforce the indicative messages exchanged by all parties, Russia deliberately sailed the two frigates in the Taiwan Strait near the Japanese island of Okinawa, prompting a military alert in both Taipei and Tokyo before the Chinese authorities announced their acceptance in a naval port in Shanghai. This, of course, reflects the high level of military coordination between China and Russia, as well as their eagerness to emphasize this at all times and in a wide variety of ways and patterns, which boosts the degree of military strategic interaction between the two countries.
This region and its vital field have become a hotbed of events and interactions, prompting a growing military alert for all parties and exacerbating fears of an unexpected, unplanned outbreak. The most recent manifestation of this acceleration was observed in North Korean skies with the launch of a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile that attained an altitude of 6,000 kilometers and a range of 1,000 kilometers. Observers and experts of the concerned countries, particularly Japan, noted that this launch broke numerous records for the longest flight time of a North Korean missile. The flight time of the North Korean missile was 74 minutes, which is the longest flight time of the eleven previous launches observed in the first half of this year. In 2022, Pyongyang conducted 37 similar missile launches. After this exceptional flight time expired, the North Korean missile fell outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan, approximately 250 kilometers west of Okushiri Island, Hokkaido.
Tokyo swiftly expressed its strong disapproval of North Korea’s continued launch of missiles, including ballistic missiles, and other related actions through Chinese diplomatic channels, saying that such behavior is unacceptable and poses a threat to the peace and security of Japan, the region, and the international community.
The missile launch by North Korea occurred at the same time as the joint Chinese-Russian military maneuver, revealing a pattern of insecure alignment. The interests of the axes located in this region are under tremendous pressure, and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict may have exposed them to new dangers.
The entrenched interests of the United States and some of its allies are not far from that escalation. They will follow these patterns of escalation, threaten to use military force, or at least increase their readiness for confrontations that are fraught with great ambiguity, even if they are closer than ever.