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Russia keen to hold naval exercises in South China Sea

04 January 2017

Russia has said it would look into holding naval exercises in the South China Sea with the Philippines, China and Malaysia to counter terrorism and piracy, as a Russian warship arrived in Manila on a "goodwill visit".

"We really hope that in a few years, military exercises… in your region and the South China Sea will take a very big part for the participants, not only Russia and the Philippines, but also China and Malaysia," said rear-admiral Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia's Pacific Fleet.

Mikhailov was speaking at a news briefing in Manila yesterday after the anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Tributs docked in Manila.

The vessel was escorted by Russian oil tanker Boris Butoma. The two ships would leave on Saturday.

Choosing not to broach the issue of territorial disputes in the region, Rear-Admiral Mikhailov said: "The main task is safety… The biggest problems now are terrorism and piracy. Our exercises with you will help fight these problems.

"We will show what we can do, and we will see what you can do and show us."

Since assuming office in June lat, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has been reviewing decades-long security arrangements with the US, that are bound by a mutual defence pact.

Meanwhile, according to commentators, compared with those of China, the US and Japan, Russia's strategic and maritime security interests in the South China Sea were relatively limited. They point out that the needs of the Russian navy in the region had largely been met through security cooperation with Vietnam, which had deepened as Hanoi sought to offset China's rising military might and maritime presence. Against this backdrop, Russia would likely not go to great lengths to boost cooperation with the Philippines.

At the same time, from Moscow's perspective, tighter relations with Manila served as an additional hedge against China's regional influence and a way to potentially divide Washington and the government of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, undermining US interests in the region.

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