In an unprecedented maneuver amid joint naval drills that just wrapped up in the region, a large group of Chinese PLA and Russian warships sailed through a key chokepoint very close to Japan's mainland for the first time ever on Monday.
Ten naval vessels belonging to China and Russia passed through the northern Tsugaru Strait, Tokyo's Defense Ministry said soon after the pass through. It comes after the two militaries just wrapped up four days of joint naval exercises, dubbed 'Maritime Interaction 2021', in the Sea of Japan from Oct.14 through 17.
It also comes after in recent months Japan has made it clear that it sides with Washington's controversial Taiwan pro-independence stance, inviting the wrath and muscle-flexing of Beijing.
Nikkei Asia reported that "The warships sailed eastward toward the Pacific Ocean, likely as part of Naval Interaction 2021, a joint maritime exercise the two navies are conducting this month."
The maritime monitoring site Naval News described the weekend Russia-China drills as follows:
12 planes and helicopters of the Pacific Fleet’s air arm and the Chinese Navy were also involved in the maneuvers.
During the joint maneuvers, the crews of the warships from both countries practiced joint tactical maneuvering, mine countermeasures, artillery live-firing against seaborne targets. They also searched for and blocked a simulated enemy’s submarine in the assigned area.
Russia's military released footage showing the large-scale joint drills...
On Friday Russia's Ministry of Defense had blasted the behavior of a US destroyer in the Sea of Japan, charging that the USS Chafee had come dangerously close to a Russian vessel while intruding on Russia's territorial waters. Russian media reports said the two ships came within 60 meters of each other.
The US Navy later in the day refuted the claims, saying its ship was conducting legal "routine operations" in international waters while blaming the Russian warship for making an aggressive approach.
The Kremlin said the Russian Navy "chased" the US destroyer out of the area, with the two contradictory narratives still unsettled. Further the region has seen Russia and Japan locked in an island dispute that goes back to WWII. Over the past couple of years, there's been a handful of encounters between US and Russian ships, given neither the US nor its ally Japan recognize the extent of what Russia claims as territorial waters.