(CNSNews.com) – A joint patrol by Russian and Chinese nuclear-capable bombers near Japan and South Korea this week triggered a spat between Tokyo and Moscow, after the Japanese government accused Russia of heightening tensions in East Asia amid its aggression in Ukraine.
Japan’s top government spokesman said the government believed that the joint patrol, which occurred while President Biden was meeting with his “Quad” counterparts in Tokyo, was intended as a “warning.”
The fact that it took place during the Quad summit “elevated the level of provocation,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said during a briefing.
Matsuno said Japan had expressed its “serious concerns” to both the Russian and Chinese governments.
In the case of Russia, he said, “we cannot overlook actions that heighten tensions in East Asia when Russia has already increased tensions in Ukraine.”
Japan also criticized China for carrying out joint military activities with Russia at a time when the international community was collectively trying to stop Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is “violating international law.”
Matsuno said the joint patrol was the fourth such exercise between Russia and China, after previous ones in July 2019, December 2020, and November 2021.
The six aircraft – Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers and Chinese H-6K strategic bombers – approached but did not breach the airspace of the two U.S. treaty allies, according to Japanese and South Korean military officials.
Responding to the Japanese criticism, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the joint patrols were “held in strict accordance with the norms of international law and fully meet the objectives of strengthening peace, stability and security in the Asia-Pacific region and in the world as a whole.”
She accused Japan of distorting the issue, and took issue in particular with what she called the “absurd linkage” of the joint patrols “with Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine.”
Zakharova said Japan’s protests came at a time when its government was stepping up military and political cooperation with the United States and other “outsiders” from NATO, conducting joint military exercises, and “taking other provocative actions that pose a serious challenge and potential threat to the security of the Russian Federation in the Far East.”
“We have repeatedly warned that we are closely following such essentially hostile activity of the current government of Japan and reserve the right to take appropriate measures in response in order to strengthen the defense capability of our country.”
China’s national defense ministry spokesman, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, said the joint patrol with the Russians did not target “any third party” and was in no way linked to “the current international and regional situation.”
Wu said the aim of the joint patrol was to test and improve the level of coordination between the two air forces, and to promote “strategic mutual trust and practical cooperation.”
China and Russia have in recent years been drawing closer in the political, economic, and military spheres, and Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping early this year in a lengthy document declared a “no limits” friendship between the two, with no areas of cooperation “forbidden.”
China has sided with Russia’s positions on the perceived threat of NATO expansion and related matters, while rejecting U.S.-led calls to cooperate in international efforts to sanction and isolate Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
During the summit in Tokyo of the Quad – the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia – Russia’s actions in distant Europe were on the leaders’ minds.
“Since we last met in person in September, an incident that overturns the rules-based international order has happened – the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” said Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
“It is a blatant challenge to the conditions set in the United Nations Charter,” he said. “We must not allow the same thing to happen in the Indo-Pacific.”
In a joint statement, the four leaders said they assessed the implications of the war in Ukraine for the Indo-Pacific, reaffirmed the centrality of “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states,” and “emphasized that all countries must seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law.”
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