While ‘only’ being a military game, underlying realities are unavoidable: Beijing clearly wants to learn how to operate in extreme cold and polar environments, says expert.
China is sending a group of 11 soldiers to take part in a military competition in southern Siberia, Russia, that will test their winter skills in extreme and mountainous condition, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports.
The Sayan March competition begins on April 14 and is held within the framework of the International Army Games 2021. While China also took part in Russia’s International Army Games last year, it is the first time China has taken part in the preliminary stage of the competition, according to SCMP.
“The development is not surprising nor out of the ordinary for PLA [People's Liberation Army, journ. note] forces to be seeking out extreme and cold weather, as well as polar environments in which to train,” Dr Elizabeth Buchanan, Lecturer in Strategic Studies at Deakin University Australia and Fellow of the Modern War Institute at West Point writes to High North News in an e-mail.
“Exposing military personnel to these operational environments is a significant prerequisite for forces to be able to engage in and operate military hardware within the polar regions,” she adds.
It is a political gamble of sorts for Moscow to seek to enhance Beijing's polar warfare capabilities in any way.
Sayan March 2021 kicks off in the mountains of the Western Sayan mountain range in southern Russia and includes a 50-kilometer ski march with the performance of 12 special tasks, including overcoming ascents and descents using ski and mountaineering equipment, orienteering in mountainous terrain and reconnaissance of targets, shooting from small arms, throwing grenades and others, the Russian Ministry of Defence states.
“Sayan is a Russian military competition/military game so some may argue it is less operation-specific. Yet underlying realities are unavoidable: Beijing clearly wants to learn how to operate in extreme cold and polar environments, second, Sino-Indian tensions in the somewhat polar Himalayan environment are still growing, and third, Russia appears willing to facilitate China's polar training. A range of medium-long term geostrategic consequences will follow from these parts,” Buchanan says.
Buchanan explains that the military game may be an opportunity for Moscow, flagging that within the Sino-Russia engagement, Moscow is taking the lead: "It is an opportunity of sorts for Moscow to flag that Beijing is interested in learning how to operate in extreme cold environments and in a way is the 'little brother' learning when it comes to the Sino-Russia relationship."
However, she adds that it also is “a political gamble of sorts for Moscow to seek to enhance Beijing's polar warfare capabilities in any way, looking ahead to possible applicability of PLA forces in the Arctic.”
In addition to the teams from the Russian Federation and the team from China, the competition will be attended by teams from Uzbekistan, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.