Russian and Chinese naval forces will meet again this August for phase two of joint military exercises that will take place in the Sea of Japan. The announcement of the new drills, which will involve two dozen ships and comes just a few weeks after the conclusion of controversial operations between the two countries in the Mediterranean Sea, marks another symbolic stride in the growing ties between Beijing and Moscow and is further evidence of China’s growing stature as a maritime force.

“The exercise will be held at the end of August in the Sea of Japan and on the coast of Russia’s Primorye Territory,” said Pacific Fleet spokesman Roman Martov. “Two dozen combat and support ships of different class, as well as naval planes and helicopters, will be involved.”

The operation comes at a critical time for both countries. Russia’s relationship with Europe and the U.S. has deteriorated over Vladimir Putin’s decision to annex Crimea in March 2014 and continued Russian involvement in the increasingly intense eastern Ukraine war. China, on the other hand, is looking to counter an increased U.S. presence in Asia by growing its naval forces and expanding its own territorial reach. 

Beijing has demonstrated its desire to play an increased role on the international stage with the West, by providing ships for anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, a role that has traditionally been fulfilled by U.S. and European forces.

Despite this cooperation, the U.S. has warned China about its expansions in the South China Sea, where it is reclaiming land from the sea so as to claim economic rights over what were previously international waters. 

Additionally, long-running disputes between China and Japan over the oil-rich Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea have caused deep divisions in the region. Those issues are likely to intensify when China and Russia begin operations in the Sea of Japan in August.