China and Russia conduct joint naval drill

Russian Pacific Fleet's flagship Varyag, a Slava-class guided missile cruiser, arrives at a naval base in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, 21 April 2012 China and Russia conducted their first naval drills in 2012

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China and Russia are beginning joint naval drills which Beijing has described as the country's largest with a foreign partner.

The drills, which are taking place in the Sea of Japan, last from 5-12 July.

People's Liberation Army chief Gen Fang Fenghui said on Tuesday the drills did not "target any third parties", but aimed to deepen ties with Russia.

However they come amid tensions with regional neighbours including Japan and the Philippines over maritime disputes.

China has overlapping claims with Tokyo and Manila in the East China and South China Sea respectively - something which has led to a marked deterioration in ties in recent years as China has pressed its claim more assertively.

Last month the US and Japanese navies held joint exercises off San Diego.

'No aggression'

Earlier this week, China's Defence Ministry said the drills marked the navy's "single biggest deployment of military force in a China-foreign joint exercise".

"Assertions have been made that this drill has a symbolic significance in terms of safeguarding the sovereignty of islands in the area, and represents a response to the US-Japan alliance," Communist Party newspaper People's Daily wrote on Friday.

But, the paper said, it was part of series of routine exercises, with the drill focusing on joint escort and the recovery of kidnapped vessels.

"There will be no aggressive element to the joint drill," it said.

The Chinese fleet comprises four destroyers, two guided missile frigates and a support ship, Chinese state media say.

The fleet left its base on Monday in China's Qingdao port for the Peter the Great Bay in Russia.

Meanwhile, Russia is expected to deploy 11 warships, a submarine and three planes during the drills, reports say.

China and Russia conducted naval drills for the first time last year. Both countries have participated in military exercises since 2005.

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