China and Russia kicked off more than a week of naval exercises in the South China Sea that will include an “island seizing” exercise, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense announced on Monday.
A five-ship Russian Navy flotilla arrived at the port of Zhanjiang in southern China on Monday for Joint Sea 2016, an eight-day bilateral exercise to be conducted in the South China Sea the ministry announced.
China issued pictures of the Udoloy-class destroyer Admiral Tributs (564) pulling into port on Monday.
The three Russian surface warships and two supply ships are set to drill with ten People’s Liberation Army Navy ships, “including destroyers, frigates, landing ships, supply ships and submarines,” according to the Chinese statement.
The Russians have also brought about 90 marines, amphibious landing craft and two helicopters. The Chinese will also bring, “11 fixed-wing aircraft, eight helicopters and 160 marines, as well as amphibious armored equipment,” the statement said.
“Chinese Navy spokesperson Liang Yang said the drill will feature the highest ever level of standardization, combat and digitalization in recent China-Russia drills,” read the statement. “Participants will undertake joint air defense, anti-submarine operations, landing, island-seizing, search and rescue and weapon use.”
Amphibious operations in which Chinese forces train to invade Taiwan and the Japanese Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea have been a staple of Chinese exercises for years.
While both the Russians and Chinese have been clear the exercise isn’t designed to target a third party, the July announcement of the bilateral exercise in the South China Sea follows the closely an international tribunal’s ruling that China’s wide claims to the South China were null and void.
In the last several years, Chinese forces have built artificial islands in the Spratly chain off the Philippines and in 2012 seized the then-Manila controlled Scarborough Shoal.
U.S. and neighboring countries are paying close attention to the coral outcropping to see if it’s set to become China’s next artificial island base in the South China Sea.
Last year the Russians and the Chinese conducted a large-scale amphibious operation near the Russian city of Vladivostok as part of Joint Sea 2015 II. Earlier last year, a Chinese surface action group drilled with the Russians in the Mediterranian and visited a Russian naval base in the Black Sea.