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China, Russia hold 'high-profile' naval drills

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BEIJING (PTI): Amid mounting tensions with neighbouring countries over South China Sea, the Chinese navy is engaged in high-profile drills with the Russian vessels, triggering speculation that Moscow wants to make its presence felt in the disputed region by showing support to Beijing.

On the third day of the week-long exercises on Tuesday, state-run CCTV showed China-Russian naval vessels conducting live firing drills with some of their big warships in the Yellow Sea off China's Qingdao city.

The drills sparked off speculation about Russia's intention to express support to China in managing the South China Sea (SCS) disputes, which flared up with the entry of the US into the region in a big way.

The timing of the drills coincided with the US-Philippine exercises which included capture of patrol drilling platforms in the oil-rich SCS, which is claimed by China and many other countries. US troops also held exercises with South Korean military.

Vietnam, which is actively pursuing its SCS dispute with China along with Philippines, too has announced its military drills with US Navy.

Philippines whose naval ships had a standoff with Chinese vessels at the Scarborough Shoal in SCS, which Beijing claims as Huangyan islands, asked the other SCS countries like Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, which had similar disputes with China, to come out in open and speak up.

Manila also filed a case against Beijing over its maritime dispute in the International Court of Justice in Hague, much to the resentment of China.

Adding to Beijing's concerns, Japan last week hosted the Mekong region countries' conference with the heads of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam -- all neighbours of China -- and pledged $ 7.4 billion for the development of the region.

The conference, for the first time, propelled Japan's influence into the region hitherto considered as China's backyard.

In this charged-up atmosphere, Russian Navy's high-profile exercises with its Chinese counterpart raised speculation that Moscow would like to make its presence felt in the region.

"The basis for cooperation between Russia and China lies in the desire to warn the US and its allies in East Asia that a 'return to Asia' policy should not be enacted at the expense of Russian and Chinese interests in the region," Yana Leksyutina, Associate Professor at the School of International Relations of St Petersburg State University, said.

"I think the joint drill is a response to recently intensified military drills in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and South China Sea by the US and its allies," she told Chinese official daily Global Times providing a Russian perspective.

The exercises are "aimed at demonstrating the strength of Russian and Chinese navies in the Pacific and to dispel the illusion, if there is such, that Russia and China will be calm observers of the US and its allies' military manoeuvring in close proximity to their borders," she said.

Playing down the significance of the drills, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a media briefing in Beijing that "the exercise is aimed at deepening comprehensive and strategic partnership coordination between China and Russia.

"It will enhance the capability of both sides to meet challenges and prevent natural disasters and help maintain regional security and stability."

"As a big country in the Asia-Pacific region, China has a great responsibility to use this drill to contribute to regional stability and peace. We hope the various parties will view this drill objectively and not link it with other events," he said.

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