As Biden meets with Asian allies, Russia and China display their own ties with a 'more provocative' bomber flight

As Biden meets with Asian allies, Russia and China display their own ties with a 'more provocative' bomber flight
A Russian TU-95 bomber and Chinese H-6 bombers over the East China Sea in a photo taken by Japan's Air Self-Defense Force on May 24, 2022.Japanese Ministry of Defense
  • Russian and Chinese bombers conducted another joint operation over Northeast Asia on Tuesday.
  • The flight reflects their increasing military cooperation and tighter relations amid tensions with the West.

At least six Russian and Chinese military aircraft conducted a joint operation over the Sea of Japan, East China Sea, and the Western Pacific on Tuesday in the latest sign of their deepening military relationship amid growing tensions with their neighbors and the US.

The joint flight is the first exercise between the two countries since Russia's attack on Ukraine began on February 24 and appears to be their first joint bomber flight since late 2021.

It came shortly after South Korea's new president took office on May 10 and as President Joe Biden wrapped up a trip to the region during which he met with South Korean and Japanese leaders, as well as with leaders of the Quad, a multilateral grouping seen as an effort to counter China's growing influence.

"We believe the fact that this action was taken during the Quad summit makes it more provocative than in the past," Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters Tuesday.

As Biden meets with Asian allies, Russia and China display their own ties with a 'more provocative' bomber flight
President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the Quad leaders summit in Tokyo, May 24, 2022.SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

South Korea's military said it spotted two Chinese H-6 bombers at 7:56 a.m. local time entering South Korea's air-defense identification zone off its southwestern coast.


The bombers flew toward the Sea of Japan, known as the East Sea in South Korea, where they continued flying with Russian Tu-95 bombers and fighter aircraft from both countries. Seoul said four Chinese and two Russian military aircraft were spotted over the East China Sea in the afternoon.

South Korean fighter jets were scrambled "to conduct tactical steps" in response, Seoul said, but the Russian and Chinese planes did not enter the country's territorial airspace.

Kishi said two Chinese bombers flew from the East China Sea toward the Sea of Japan, where they were joined by two Russian aircraft and flew together toward the East China Sea. Another pair of Chinese planes later joined the Russian bombers and flew toward the Western Pacific. A Russian reconnaissance aircraft also flew south into the Sea of Japan.

None of the aircraft entered Japan's airspace, Kishi said, but Tokyo scrambled fighter jets in response and relayed "grave concerns" to Moscow and Beijing through diplomatic channels.

China's Defense Ministry called the joint flight part of an "annual military cooperation plan." Russia's Defense Ministry said Su-30SM fighters supported the Tu-95 and H-6K bombers during the 13-hour patrol and that "the aircraft of both countries operated strictly in compliance with the provisions of international law."


The flights reflect a Chinese-Russian relationship that has warmed dramatically in recent years, including through joint military exercises on land, at sea, and in the air. Chinese and Russian bombers conducted similar flights over the same region in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

As Biden meets with Asian allies, Russia and China display their own ties with a 'more provocative' bomber flight
A Japanese Defense Ministry map of Russian and Chinese military flights over the East China Sea and Sea of Japan on May 24, 2022.Japanese Ministry of Defense

Chinese state media said after the flight in November 2021 that the operations were meant "to further develop the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination" and weren't directed at "any third party."

In early February, Russia and China heralded their "friendship" as having "no limits" and "no 'forbidden' areas of cooperation" in a joint statement issued after a summit between leaders Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the Western response to Russia's attack on Ukraine as "a 'dictator's position'" and said Moscow would focus on expanding ties with China "even faster." Asked about Lavrov's comments, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that China-Russia relations "have withstood the new test of the changing international landscape" and "will not be affected by others."

Exchanges of military expertise and hardware, much of it from Russia to China, have been a main feature of their relationship. US officials have said Moscow has requested Chinese military support during its war in Ukraine but haven't seen signs Beijing has provided it.


But the joint bomber flight shows that China is still willing to "closely align" with Russia, a Biden administration official told Reuters on Tuesday.

"China is not walking away from Russia. Instead, the exercise shows that China is ready to help Russia defend its east while Russia fights in its west," the official said.