WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A joint strategic bombing exercise by Russia and China in East Asia on Tuesday shows the depth of the two countries’ alignment, a senior U.S. administration official said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry earlier confirmed the joint patrol, which it said lasted 13 hours over the Japanese and East China Seas and involved Russian Tu-95 and Chinese Xian H-6 strategic bombers.
Aircraft from the Japanese and South Korean air forces shadowed the Russian and Chinese jets during part of the exercise, Russia said.
The move marks the first joint military exercise by China and Russia since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24, according to the US official, and it comes at the end of US President Joe Biden’s trip to the region.
“We think it shows that China remains willing to join closely with Russia, including through military cooperation,” the official said, adding that such actions must be planned well in advance.
“China is not moving away from Russia. Instead, the exercise shows that China is ready to help Russia defend its east, while Russia is fighting in its west,” the person said.
The senior official added that the bombing exercise indicated that Russia would side with China in its territorial disputes with neighbors in the eastern and southern China seas.
It was unclear whether the exercises were planned to coincide with Biden’s first trip as president to Asia, where he visited the allies of South Korea and Japan, and on Tuesday joined the leaders of democratic Japan, India and Australia – collectively known as Quad – for their second personal summit.
During the trip, Biden has emphasized, in part intended to counter China’s growing influence in the region, that the United States will stand with its allies and partners to push for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
Beijing and Moscow declared a “no-limits” partnership just weeks before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, and China has refused to condemn the move.
The two countries have previously conducted such exercises, including what Russia said was their first long-range joint air patrol in the region in 2019. In August, they held major military exercises in China involving more than 10,000 soldiers.
U.S. officials say they still have no indication that Beijing has provided material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, a move they have warned could trigger sanctions against China, similar to some of the comprehensive measures Washington and its allies has taken against Moscow.
Report by Michael Martina. Edited by Gerry Doyle and Chizu Nomiyama