China, Russia planning East China Sea drills: Xinhua

EIJING (AFP) - China and Russia will carry out joint naval exercises in the East China Sea later this month, state media reported on Thursday, with China and Japan embroiled in a territorial dispute in the area.

The drills, to take place off Shanghai, are scheduled for late in the month, the official Xinhua news agency said in a brief report, citing China's Defence Ministry.

The drills were described as "regular exercises" and come after the two countries held similar manoeuvres last year off Russia's Far East coast, Xinhua said.

China and Japan both claim a small, uninhabited archipelago in the East China Sea, administered by Japan as the Senkaku Islands, but which China calls the Diaoyu Islands.

The dispute has simmered for decades, but tensions have spiked since 2012 when Tokyo purchased islands in the chain it did not already own. Beijing has taken an increasingly hard line on the issue ever since.

Ships and aircraft from both countries regularly patrol waters around the contested territory and have on occasion come perilously close to armed clashes.

The location of the planned drill was described by Xinhua as "off Shanghai", which would be well north of the disputed area. The contested zone lies to the north-east of Taiwan and to the southwest of Japan's southern island of Okinawa.

Japan and Russia also have a long-running territorial dispute centred on four islands off Japan's northern coast seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.