MOSCOW — Russia’s defense minister on Friday hailed joint war games with China this week as a sign of increasingly close military cooperation that should expand further.
Sergei Shoigu flew to China to attend the drills that wrapped up Friday in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
“We have achieved a high level of cooperation between our militaries on land, in the air and at sea,” Shoigu said during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, “Expanding it is an important part of our future activities.”
The Russian military sent several Su-30SM fighters and a motorized infantry unit to take part in the maneuvers.
Shoigu noted that the exercise marked the first time that Russian troops had taken part in joint drills on the territory of China, adding that it reflected a “new level” of military cooperation, to the benefit of regional and global stability.
In a statement about the exercise, the Russian Defense Ministry quoted Wei as saying that it was intended to increase the ability “to jointly respond to risks and challenges” and wasn’t aimed against any third country.
Russia and China have held a series of drills in recent years including combat aircraft and warships, including an exercise in December when Russian and Chinese long-range bombers flew a joint patrol mission over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.
The region where this week’s drills were held is located in northwestern China, east of Xinjiang, where China has detained more than 1 million Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities in what it calls a campaign against terrorism and extremism. Critics say the detentions violate the human rights of a minority group.
Xinjiang shares a narrow frontier with Afghanistan, and Beijing is concerned about violence spilling over its border if the Taliban take control in Afghanistan following the pullout of U.S. troops.
Russia has sought to expand ties with China as its relations with the West sank to post-Cold War lows over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, accusations of Russian hacking attacks, interference in elections and other disputes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, have developed strong personal ties to bolster a “strategic partnership” between the former Communist rivals as both Moscow and Beijing face increasing tensions with the West. And even though Russia and China in the past rejected the possibility of forging a military alliance, Putin said last fall that such a prospect can’t be ruled out entirely.
Putin also noted in October that Russia has been sharing highly sensitive military technologies with China that helped significantly bolster its defense capability.