WASHINGTON – China and Russia held their first joint military exercise since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on Tuesday, sending bombers over the seas in northeast Asia as a show of force as President Biden visited the region, according to US and South Korean officials.
The US government followed the military exercise, a senior US official said, as Mr. Biden met in Tokyo with leaders of Australia, Japan and India, partner countries in the so-called Quad coalition formed in part to oppose Chinese power. go into the Indo-Pacific region. The military activity was an important sign that the partnership between China and Russia has not weakened, even as the three-month-old war in Ukraine has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths.
The bombers flew over the Sea of Japan early Tuesday and continued south toward the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea, the US official said on condition of anonymity. South Korea issued a statement confirming the exercise and said two Chinese military planes and four Russian warplanes had entered its air defense identification zone off the country’s eastern coast, without penetrating airspace. Joint exercises with strategic bombers are complex and are usually planned well in advance.
President Vladimir V. Putin has sought to strengthen Russia’s ties with China as a like-minded nation resisting Western domination. On February 4, when Mr. Putin visited Beijing for the Winter Olympics and met President Xi Jinping for the 38th time as national leaders, their governments issued a 5,000-word statement declaring the two nations a ” no borders” partnership.
Senior US officials and a European official later said in interviews that a Western intelligence report indicated senior Chinese officials had asked their Russian counterparts to invade Ukraine in early February until after the Olympics ended. The day after the closing ceremony, Mr. Putin said that Ukraine should not be a sovereign state and ordered more units of the Russian army to cross into the disputed Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The large-scale invasion began three days later.
In mid-March, US officials said Russia had asked China for military and economic aid after its invasion of Ukraine. Russian ground forces have performed poorly in battles and skirmishes against the Ukrainian army, and Mr Putin has decided to withdraw units from Kiev and other major cities and focus on taking the entire Donbas region. US officials say they have discovered no military or economic aid sent from China to Russia for the war.
China has also not intervened to help Russia evade sanctions or mitigate the impact of the sanctions, US officials say.
Chinese and Russian officials have strengthened their military ties in recent years, and the two countries have grown closer, in part because of the deeply personal relationship between Mr Xi and Mr Putin. Both men are autocrats who harbor hostility to the United States and seek to weaken American power.
China has bought more advanced weapons from Russia and the two countries have recently conducted a growing number of joint military exercises. Last October, the two countries held joint naval exercises for the Russian Far East. In January, the two joined Iran for similar exercises in the northern Indian Ocean.
The United States has followed the rapid modernization of the People’s Liberation Army of China and its various armed forces. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised concerns among some US and European officials about the possibility that Beijing could decide to invade Taiwan. US officials have pressured Taiwan to order American-made weapons that they say would give Taiwan a chance to fight off a typical invasion by sea.
On Monday, Biden said the United States would defend Taiwan militarily if China attacked the self-governing democratic island. US officials later said that Mr. Biden did not in any way change a long-standing policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan and China.
Choe Sang-Hun contributed from Seoul.