Russia and China Begin First Joint War Games of Their Kind Amid New U.S. Tensions

Russia and China kicked off the first joint war games of their kind, a sign of their growing defense ties as their top military brass discussed strengthening relations in the wake of U.S. attempts to challenge their global rise.

Russian and Chinese troops, along with personnel from six other nations, are training together for the first time as part of a joint anti-terrorism drill known as "Peace Mission 2018," conducted under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The eight-nation group had held six joint exercises prior to this, but this is the first time that all countries, including both longtime rivals India and Pakistan, are participating together. The opening ceremony and first exercise took place over the weekend.

Shortly afterward, General Li Zuocheng, the Chinese Central Commission's joint staff department chief, made his debut visit to Moscow in yet another sign of growing Russia-China cooperation. He met with his Russian counterpart, general staff chief General Valery Gerasimov, telling him, "Today I offer to discuss the prospects of expanding and deepening our bilateral relations, including holding joint military exercises and exchanging opinions on the situation in the critical regions of the world," according to the state-run TassRussianNewsAgency.

Gerasimov accepted amid what he said was an unprecedented level of cooperation between the two countries, saying, "We are paying special attention to realizing the agreements reached. The key component of our cooperation in the military sphere is the cooperation of both countries' general staffs."

Chinese forces march past the viewing stand at the opening ceremony of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's "Peace Mission2018" joint anti-terrorism military exercise in Chebarkul, Russia, on August 24. The event brought together troops from China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia and Tajikistan, along with support personnel from Uzbekistan, for the first time. Chinese People's Liberation Army/China Military Online

That same day, the official China Military Online reported that Friday's opening ceremony included a parade and speeches from Lieutenant General Alexander Rabin, director general of the joint director department and commander of the Russia's Central Military District; and Senior Colonel Ma Qixian, fellow director of the joint director department and assistant of the chief of staff of the Joint Staff Department of China's Western Military District.

"Senior Colonel Ma Qixian said in his speech that the 'Peace Mission 2018' is a crucial exercise held amid an increasingly complex international and regional anti-terrorism situation and an important part of the SCO's deepening cooperation in the field of defense and security, and it serves as an important platform reflecting the mutual trust and cooperation among SCO member states," the Chinese military's website wrote.

It continued, "It will play a positive role in enhancing the ability of all member states to work together to cope with new threats and challenges, promoting the SCO's defense and security cooperation to go further both in substance and depth, and safeguarding regional peace and stability, Ma Qixian added."

The maneuvers were comprised of 3,000 troops from China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia and Tajikistan, along with additional observers from Uzbekistan. Russia and China have sought to enhance the military nature of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to counter Western—chiefly U.S. and NATO-defense coalition—influence across Asia. The U.S. and its allies have accused Russia and China of pursuing destabilizing policies in the region and beyond.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) during a welcoming ceremony at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Council of Heads of State in Qingdao, China, on June 10. The leaders have said their countries' relationship is better now than in any other point in history. SERGEY GUNEYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. hit Russia, its leading military rival, with sanctions after charging it with interfering in foreign elections, illegally seizing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and the attempted assassination in March of an ex-Soviet spy who'd defected to the U.K. While President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have attempted to mend their countries' broken ties, Washington has pressed forward with more economic restrictions, leading the Russian embassy in the U.S. to state Monday that "the worst Cold War scenarios, the ones the world should have forsaken 30 years ago, are now taking shape."

The Chinese Defense Ministry called on the U.S. to "abandon the Cold War mentality" after the Pentagon released a report portraying Beijing's recent military and economic rise as bad for the region. Many of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's members are included in Chinese President Xi Jinping's One Belt, One Road initiative, which seeks to establish lucrative trade routes and ambitious projects across Asia and into Africa, Europe and the Americas—something the U.S. has warned could upset the traditional world order.