China, Russia to hold joint naval, air drills

BEIJING (AFP) - China and Russia will hold joint military drills in the waters and airspace of the Sea of Japan, Beijing said Thursday, the latest defence cooperation between the countries.

The exercises will take place August 20 to 28 in the Peter the Great Gulf and other areas off the Russian coast, defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters.

A key purpose of the drills was to "further enhance their capabilities of jointly coping with maritime security threats", Yang said, adding they will include training in air defence, anti-submarine and surface warfare, and landings.

China will send seven naval ships including a destroyer and a frigate, along with fighter jets and other aircraft, Yang said.

Russia's contingent will include surface vessels, submarines and fixed wing aircraft, he said, adding that both sides will dispatch ship-borne helicopters and marines.

The drills come as Beijing and Moscow intensify cooperation in military, political and economic spheres.

In May they conducted their first joint naval exercises in European waters in the Black Sea and Mediterranean. It was China's farthest ever naval exercise from its home waters.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin hold frequent summits and their countries, both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, often take similar stances there on divisive issues such as the conflict in Syria.

The waters of the Peter the Great Gulf, south of Vladivostok, are close to where the borders of Russia, China and North Korea come together.

Beijing and Tokyo are at odds over islands in the East China Sea farther south controlled by Japan but claimed by China, though both sides have made efforts to cool tensions through dialogue, including meetings between Xi and Japanese prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The Japanese government last week claimed that China has put 16 drilling rigs close to its de facto maritime border with Japan, claiming China could exploit undersea reserves over which the two countries are at loggerheads. Yang dismissed Tokyo's claims.

"The purpose of the Japanese accusation against China is to create and play up the China threat theory," he said, adding it provided Japan "an excuse" for new defence legislation.

Japan's lower house of parliament this month approved controversial laws to allow Japanese troops to fight alongside allies when under attack, which has raised concerns in China that Tokyo will take a more robust military stance.

China is planning a huge military parade in early September to commemorate victory over Japanese forces as well as the broader defeat of the Axis powers in World War II.

Russian troops will participate after China's military took part in a march in Moscow in May also marking the end of the conflict.