China and Russia will hold a joint military exercise in strategic waters near Japan.

Russia will send troops from its air force and navy to participate in a  China-led joint military exercise in the Sea of ​​Japan,  or East Sea, the Chinese Defense Ministry announced Saturday.

Without giving the date of the “North/Interaction-2023” exercise, organized by the People’s Liberation Army’s Northern Theater Command, the ministry has said the drills would focus on “maintaining the security of strategic sea corridors.”

“This joint exercise is aimed at enhancing the level of strategic cooperation between the Chinese and Russian militaries, as well as strengthening the ability of both sides to jointly safeguard regional peace and stability when faced with various security challenges,” it says in a statement. The two countries’ military leaders announced the drills last month. Saturday’s statement confirms the involvement of the Russian armed and naval forces and the location of the exercise.

Defense experts said the joint drills could be seen as a clear response to Washington’s attempts to work more closely with its regional allies Japan and South Korea to prepare for a possible conflict with Beijing over Taiwan, representing a potential threat to China and Russia.

Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor, said the strategic sea corridors mentioned by the Chinese Defense Ministry included three straits near Japan, the Tsushima, Soya and Tsugaru straits, which could become key strongholds for the US and its allies to blockade China and Russia from accessing the Western Pacific.

“In order to break through the possible barriers of any potential risk, it is very important that the PLA and its Russian counterpart hold regular drills,” Song said.

Zhou Chenming, a researcher with the Beijing-based Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank, said the United States was not only working with Japan and South Korea but also with other allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region. Pacific to try to isolate Russia and China.

“The bitter ties between China and the United States, and between the United States and Russia, are bringing Beijing and Moscow closer,” Zhou said. “Further isolation of China and Russia will only push the PLA and Russian militaries to conduct more joint military exercises.”

Last month, the PLA and Russian forces conducted a  two-day joint strategic air patrol in the airspace over the East China Sea and the Sea of ​​Japan, their sixth such exercise since 2019.

China and Russia have held regular military exercises since 2002. The first joint naval exercises were held closer to Russian waters, including the North Sea of ​​Japan and the Gulf of Peter the Great.

In September, the PLA sent a flotilla led by its largest destroyer, the Type 055, to join the Russian-hosted Vostok 2022 war games in the Sea of ​​Japan.

Sino-Japanese ties were strained at the time, with Tokyo saying five PLA missiles landed in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) during PLA drills held in response to a visit to Taiwan by the former speaker of the Japanese House of Representatives The United States, Nancy Pelosi, in August.

Beijing denied that the missiles landed in the EEZ and said the two countries had not agreed on the boundaries of the zone.

Minnie Chan