Japan’s Nikkei speculates that Russian warships are taking advantage of these exercises because of Russia’s concerns over China’s growing might.
The timing of these exercises may be less than coincidental, according to a European graduate of the Naval Academy and former Navy officer now living in Japan who requested not to be identified.
The Russian guided missile cruiser, Varyag, and the MSDF will carry out search and rescue exercises, which are two activities that are probably now more present in everyone’s mind than the friction over the Northern Territories, a group of disputed islands north of Hokkaido that the Soviet Union seized from Japan in the dying days of World War II. The last time Russia and Japan carried out joint exercises was in 2008.
“Sending a warship is a form of diplomacy, and sending one to take part in a search and rescue exercise is definitely a cooperative and positive gesture,” the former officer said. “Although probably scheduled well before Yoshihiko Noda became Japan’s new Prime Minister, it does start things off on the right foot between Russia and Japan’s new cabinet.”
The Varyag will have a port call in Maizuru in Kyoto prefecture, before sailing to Guam, to take part in the Pacific Eagle exercises with the U.S. Navy, which is now becoming a regular event.
“Pacific Eagle allowed both the Russian and United States’ Navies to learn from each other,” said Lt. Commander Thomas E. Schultz, the Commanding Officer of the USS Patriot, a mine counter-measure ship that took part in a previous Pacific Eagle exercise. “It offered the chance for each side to gain trust and confidence in each other,”
Navies around the Pacific frequently take part in exercises together. MSDF ships can be found as far away as the Indian Ocean taking part in exercises with warships from other nations.
Although warships from many nations exercise together, these exercises are also frequently used to send diplomatic signals. For example, China strongly complained when the U.S. recently held exercises with the Philippine Navy, including live fire drills, following disputes over the islands that China and the Philippines claim.
Russia appears to be growing more aware of its own Far East. With this growing awareness comes a concern about the stability of the Far East. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov said at a recent conference, “Our volume of bilateral trade and economic ties is increasingly shifting to Asia.”
Although Russia talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il last month seemed to produce no real results, these efforts indicate Russia’s greater attention to what is their own backyard.
“Russia hopes the two exercises will help to build a security framework involving Japan, the U.S. and Russia,” a high-ranking Russian official said.
He perhaps tactfully left out the difference in Russian and Japanese perceptions regarding how China would or would not fit into any security framework in Asia.