The recent violation of the South Korean airspace during a joint patrol of Russian and Chinese strategic bombers may have been a message to US hawks.
On July 23, a group of Russian and Chinese warplanes, including strategic bombers, conducted a joint patrol mission near South Korea’s territory under the annual cooperation plan, the Chinese Defense Ministry’s official spokesman Col. Wu Qian said on July 24.
“As far as the air incident is concerned, I would like to reiterate that China and Russia are engaged in all-encompassing strategic coordination. This patrol mission was among the areas of cooperation and was carried out within the framework of the annual plan of cooperation between the defense agencies of the two states. It was not directed against any other ‘third state,’” the Chinese military official said during the presentation of the white paper headlined ‘China’s National Defense in the New Era.’
“As far as the practice of joint strategic patrols is concerned, both sides will make a decision on the matter on the basis of bilateral consultations. Under the strategic command of the heads of states, the armed forces of the two nations will continue developing their relations. The sides will support each other, respect mutual interests and develop corresponding mechanisms of cooperation,” he added.
Two Russian strategic bombers Tu-95MS and two Chinese strategic bombers Xian H-6 carried a scheduled flight over the neutral waters of the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.
South Korean said that a Russian plane breached the republic’s airspace near the Dokdo (Takeshima) islands, which are disputed by Seoul and Tokyo. In response, South Korea’s F-15 and F-16 fighter planes were scrambled.
On July 24, Yoon Do-han, a spokesman for the South Korean president, told reporters that a Russian military attaché in Seoul had conveyed Moscow’s “deep regret” about the incident and had said that the Russian plane mistakenly deviated from its flight plan.
The news agency Interfax quoted the press officer of the Russian Embassy in South Korea, Dmitry Bannikov, as saying that Russian officials had seen reports on Mr. Yoon’s comments, and that “there are many things in them that aren’t true.”
“The Russian side did not issue an official apology,” Mr. Bannikov noted, according to the agency.
That appeared to leave open the possibility that the Russians were apologetic in private. Such appologies are beyond general attitude of states in similar cases. Taking into account this and the Chinese statement, it appears that Russia and China do not see South Korea as a potential enemy. Rather they see it as an equal partner on the international scene.
China and Russia demonstrated that they are ready to employ jointly their strategic bombardment capability in the event of confrontation.
The July 23 incident happened a day ahead of meeting between US national security adviser John Bolton with South Korean officials. Bolton was set to meet with South Korea’s chief of National Security Office Chung Eui-yong, Defence Minister Jeong Kyung-doo, and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in Seoul to discuss issues including denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and ways to strengthen the South Korea-US cooperation.
Bolton is among the most hawkish voices of the Washington establishment that calls for a further confrontation with China and Russia.