Russia and China are displaying the highest level of military cooperation in three decades, posing an escalated threat to the United States and its allies, according to a government report released Monday.
U.S. air superiority in the Asia Pacific is particularly vulnerable due to sustained Russian arms sales to Beijing and a new focus between the two militaries on missile defense, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission detailed in its new report.
Russian deliveries of Su-35 strike fighter jets to China, which began in December 2015, along with deliveries of its S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system, which are set to begin in 2018, will expand Beijing's reach in the Taiwan Strait and threaten air assets of U.S. allies in the South China and East China Seas.
Ethan Meick, a policy analyst in security and foreign affairs at USCC who authored the report, predicted missile defense cooperation between Moscow and Beijing would continue for years to come. The two militaries held their first joint missile defense exercise in May 2016 and have announced a second exercise to be conducted in 2017.
Both Beijing and Moscow are opposed to U.S. plans to install the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile defense system in South Korea to combat North Korean aggression. Meick anticipated the second Russia-China anti-missile exercise would coincide with the U.S. deployment of THAAD, which began earlier this month.
Since Chinese President Xi Jinping took office in 2012, the People's Liberation Army and Russian Armed Forces have staged increasingly complex military exercises. The drills have expanded drastically in geographic scope, suggesting increasingly aligned security interests.
Russian and Chinese military officials have repeatedly denied that the exercises are aimed at any one country, but the timing and location of the drills has led the West to believe otherwise, the report noted.
Following the July ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that rejected China's territorial claims to the South China Sea, the Kremlin and Beijing conducted their annual naval exercise in the South China Sea. Western officials believed the drills were a "show of unity" between the two countries, coinciding with President Vladimir Putin's announcement just weeks earlier that he did not recognize the tribunal's decision, according to the report.
The joint exercises have also led to more frequent meetings between senior-level Chinese and Russian military officers. These contacts have allowed defense officials to conduct arms deals, prepare for joint exercises, and outline regional and global security concerns.
Despite mutual distrust between Moscow and Beijing stemming from geopolitical and economic tensions, the report predicted the two countries would "further deepen" defense relations in the coming years to resist U.S. influence in the region.