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Russia and China meld muscle for war games

Shared concerns of regional unrest push aside differences.

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Russia and China begin joint war games Thursday, for the first time adding military muscle to a burgeoning partnership that some experts see sweeping away old strategic verities, from the Taiwan Strait to central Asia and beyond.

The week-long maneuvers off the Pacific coast are widely viewed as Moscow lending a mail-gloved hand to China's efforts to warn the United States away from involvement in any future crisis over Taiwan. But preparations to deal with potential unrest in Central Asia may also figure, some say.

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged to work together to prepare their armed forces "to deal with new challenges and threats," listed as extremism, terrorism, and separatism.

Further suggesting the war games may be part of a larger agenda is the presence of defense ministers from the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Some analysts believe Moscow and Beijing hope to transform the SCO, hitherto a Central Asian talking shop, into a NATO-style security alliance to keep order in their increasingly troubled neighborhood. "Shared security concerns in the far East and Central Asia are driving Russia and China into much closer security cooperation," says Sergei Lusyanin, an expert with the official Institute of International Relations, which trains Russian diplomats. "It's not surprising to see them flexing a bit of joint military muscle for the first time, and I think we can expect much more of that in future."

The war games, dubbed "Peace Mission 2005," will see combined Russian and Chinese forces deploy to reestablish order in an imaginary country "on the territory where riots stemming from ethnic discord have taken place and confrontation between different forces occurred," according to Russian Gen. Vladimir Moltenskoy. Highlights will include amphibious troop landings and paratroop drops on China's Shandong Peninsula, accompanied by antisubmarine maneuvers and cruise-missile launches from high-flying Russian Tu-95 "Bear" bombers.

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