"China thinks that they should be the lead, and Russia thinks they should be the lead, so I’m fairly happy with that tension there,” said Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach, commander of Pacific Air Forces, during an AFA Mitchell Institute discussion.

(It’s) “interesting to see the power play,” he added. Wilsbach believes this issue will “be a problem for them” in the future.

The countries’ dictators have re-pledged mutual support recently after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which some analysts have speculated may present China with an opening to attack Taiwan.

China and Russia have conducted numerous joint military training exercises. However, Wilsbach said their forces are not interoperable. “We’ve seen some integrated bomber patrols, along with their command control aircraft and tankers… very short exercises together through the Pacific.

“There’s been a couple of other exercises that we’ve seen them do together, but I would not say that they’re interoperable in any way,” Wilsbach opined. “Their systems are quite different.”

China and Russia can’t help but see that the U.S. and its allies in the Pacific possess the interoperable advantage.

Wilsbach stated that China and Russia can’t help but see that the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Pacific possess the interoperable advantage. “They see us flying with Republic of Korea and with Japan and Australia, as well as with Indonesia, India, Malaysia, and Singapore.

“We fly with them routinely,” he noted, “And we’re interoperable… We’re flying a lot of the same equipment. We’re even data-linking together, in some cases. And the tactics are very similar… something the Chinese really don’t have.”

He added that he thinks China is taking “a pretty cautious approach right now, based on uncertainty of how this (Ukraine) might turn out” and the “international backlash that’s happened toward Russia. They probably don’t want to get caught up in that.”

For more on this subject, read Marty Kauchak’s analysis: The Bear, the Dragon and the Eagle. 

Wilsbach said China continues to operate in the Pacific “in many instances, outside the rule of law,” periodically making incursions on neighbour territory, using “predatory lending practices” to achieve influence in a number of countries, and denying democracy to Hong Kong.

The U.S. Air Force continues to do daily training in the Asia-Pacific region, one of the key differences from “a year or two ago,” adding “our frequent daily operations” are “fully integrated” with the Navy and Marine Corps, “mostly west of the (International) Date Line, to demonstrate what U.S. forces can do in that part of the world.”

He said he hopes that one of the “key lessons” the Chinese are taking from the Russian invasion of Ukraine is “the solidarity of the global community” in opposing “an unprovoked attack on a neighbor,” and the onerous sanctions that have economically crippled Moscow.

“I’m hoping China recognizes that,” and if China behaves in a similar way against Taiwan or another neighbor “something more robust will happen,” Wilsbach added. An unprovoked attack would “provide solidarity for the nations to come together and oppose something like that.” 

China should also consider, before undertaking adventurism like Russia’s, “some of the terrain they would have to contend with” and the opposition of regional countries. (Russia has) “killed many of their own people as well as Ukrainians, and I’m hopeful China will pay attention to that as well.”

Wilsbach was amused that China accuses the U.S. of trying to create a NATO of the Pacific, noting it is China’s own actions that are inspiring those discussions.