A US Coast Guard ship on routine patrol in the Bering Sea near Alaska last week came across Chinese and Russian warships conducting a joint operation that analysts say was a “show of solidarity”.
The crew of the Kimball, a Honolulu-based cutter, first discovered a Chinese guided-missile cruiser about 75 nautical miles north of Kiska Island, Alaska, in the United States exclusive economic zone on September 19, the Coast Guard said on Monday.
Kiska is part of the Aleutian Islands and lies roughly 2,000km (1,300 miles) southwest of Anchorage and about 1,100km (700 miles) from Russia.
The US Coast Guard said the Kimball crew later identified another two Chinese naval ships in formation with four Russian naval vessels – including a Russian frigate – operating as a “combined surface action group” within the US zone.
It said the operation could have been part of joint naval drills following Russia’s week-long Vostok 2022 war games that ended on September 7.
The Kimball was monitoring the area in accordance with Operation Frontier Sentinel, which aims “to meet presence with presence when strategic competitors operate in and around US waters”, the US Coast Guard said.
Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Beijing-based Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank, said the Russian and Chinese navies appeared to be conducting “a so-called freedom of navigation operation that the American navy carries out across the globe, including the Taiwan Strait and other open seas”.
He noted that at 4,500 tonnes, the Kimball cutter was much smaller than the 11,000-tonne Chinese destroyer Nanchang and also the 6,200-tonne Russian frigate Marshal Shaposhnikov – both of which were among the group, according to early reports.
Zhou said this was “the correct practice to prevent any misjudgment or misunderstanding”.
A Chinese guided missile frigate, the Yancheng, and Dongpinghu supply ship were also reportedly part of the joint operation, which was also said to include three Russian corvettes and a tanker.
Collin Koh, a research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said it was a show of “strategic convergence and solidarity”.
“Especially when Beijing has been talking about a ‘no limits’ relationship while Moscow has to date expressed much greater willingness for closer security cooperation,” he said.
Koh said it was also aimed at asserting their freedom of navigation, “somewhat along the lines of what China and Russia have individually been practicing”.
The Moscow Times said in an earlier report that China and Russia’s joint naval drills involved live-fire training and helicopter deck flights in the Pacific, and had shown that the two countries “pursue a ‘no limits’ relationship to counter the global dominance of the US and its regional allies”.