More than 7,000 troops from ChinaRussia and four central Asia countries have gathered in Inner Mongolia for their biggest joint drills to fight terrorists.

A total of 23 Chinese aircraft will participate in Peace Mission-2014, along with tanks, drones and air-defense missiles from countries in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported. The SCO groups China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The exercises are another sign China and Russia are willing to work together as both seek to upgrade their military capacity in the face of rising territorial tensions. The drills will prepare troops to protect the so-called Silk Road economic and transport belt that will run through central Asia from China to Europe from terrorist attack, China Radio International reported.

“It is kind of rare to have an anti-terrorist mission which uses battle tanks,” said Matthew Sussex, head of politics and international relations at the University of Tasmania. “It says: ‘We are trying to exercise together to coordinate our troops to meet any potential eventuality’ — in other words war.”

China’s President Xi Jinping, the head of the Central Military Commission, has made it a priority to better prepare the People’s Liberation Army for combat, while Russia’s Vladimir Putin has embarked on the biggest overhaul of his country’s armed forces since the Cold War.

Russia and China in May held their first joint naval exercises near Japanese-controlled islands that are at the center of a Chinese-Japanese rift. Russia further inflamed tension with Japan last week when it started military exercises in the disputed Kuril Islands.

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Growing Capability

The SCO joint exercise scenario involves a separatist organization in a certain country, supported by an international terrorist organization, plotting terrorist incidents and hatching a coup plot to divide the country, Xinhua reported, citing Wang Ning, chief director of the drill and deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army.

China’s drills this year have impeded civilian flights, with airlines ordered to cut as many as a quarter of flights in part of July.

The military will take steps to minimize delays to civilian flights as drones and fighter bombers join the SCO drills, Xinhua reported, citing a spokesman for the China Air Force.

The SCO is an intergovernmental organization established in Shanghai in 2001. Its members account for the fifth of the Eurasian landmass and a quarter of the world’s population, according to the SCO website. Afghanistan, India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan are SCO observers. Belarus, Turkey and Sri Lanka are dialogue partners.

Source: Bloomberg / David Tweed

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