Subs, jets & tug-of-war: Russian-Chinese naval drills kick off in disputed South China Sea

Russia and China have started their massive joint ‘Joint Sea 2016’ exercises in the South China Sea. The ambitious drills, which are to last eight days, will take place in the air, coastal and maritime zones of the disputed sea.

RT's Roman Kosarev, reporting from a Russian flagship, has witnessed the start of the drills. He was present at the opening ceremony of the start of the exercises, managed to capture a tug-of-war contest between Russian and Chinese sailors.

Russian group consists of major “anti-submarine warfare ships ‘Admiral Tributs’ and ‘Admiral Vinogradov’, the major landing ship ‘Peresvet’, the sea tug ‘Alatau’ and the ‘Pechenga’ tanker,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, adding that the commander of the group is Rear Admiral Vadim Kulit.

“During the entrance into the foreign port, the [Russian] military seamen of both countries fired “international salute” (21 volleys from each side),” the ministry added.

The joint drills which kicked off on Monday, September 12, are to last till September 19 and “will take place …in the air, coastal and maritime zones of the South China Sea,” the ministry said. The active phase of the drills will be held September 12-15. 

In total, two submarines, 13 surface combatant ships, more than 20 planes and helicopters will take part in the drills from both sides. Over 250 marines will join the exercises, the ministry said, adding that some 12 armored personnel carriers (APC) and armored amphibious equipment will be also involved.

READ MORE: Russia, China to practice island defense during eight-day drill in disputed sea (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

The drills will include anti-submarine warfare, vessel rescue, joint air defense, and taking an island with amphibious and airborne troops.


“This year, for the first time, we are holding a contest of the best damage control among the best units of the marines,” Rear Admiral Aleksandr Yuldashev told Interfax, adding that the servicemen learnt how to survive on the crushing ship and extinguish fire on board the vessel.

Russian-Chinese drills show that both countries “can demonstrate their common interests, support each other,” Joseph Cheng, a political analyst from Hong Kong University told RT.

© Roman Kosarev

“Russia wants to show that it is a global power with global interests and is ready to defend such global interests…and China certainly welcomes such exercises in response to American bilateral and multilateral exercises in the area,” he said, apparently referring to joint drills between US and South Korea.


The South China Sea is a major trade route, as well as a source of regional tension, with several powers, including China, contesting sovereignty over parts of the sea. The Russian-Chinese drill, which is being held off China’s southern Guangdong Province, is not directed against any third party, the two countries’ militaries said.

This year, Russia and China are holding their fifth naval drill under that name. The first was held in 2012 in the Yellow Sea, the second off the coast of Russia’s Far East in 2013, and the third in the East China Sea in 2014.

Last year, the fourth exercise was conducted in two phases, with the first in the Mediterranean in May, and the second in the Peter the Great Gulf, the waters off the Clerk Cape, and the Sea of Japan (also known as the East Sea) in late August.