China, Russia end first naval exercises: state media

BEIJING - China and Russia on Friday ended their first joint naval exercises, which included live fire drills, state media said, amid regional tension over Beijing's territorial claims.

The six days of drills off China's eastern coast were the first between the two countries dedicated to naval exercises, though they have previously conducted war games.

Chinese Vice Admiral Ding Yiping described the exercises as a "complete success", the official Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.

China deployed 16 naval vessels and two submarines for the exercises while Russia dispatched four warships and three supply ships, it said.

Ships fired "hundreds" of shells at targets during the exercises, which also included air defence and anti-submarine tactics, the China Daily newspaper said.

Both countries denied the drills were aimed at "third parties" but they took place in the midst of a standoff between China and the Philippines over disputed islands in the South China Sea.

"China and Russia holding joint military exercises is normal," defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng was quoted as saying Thursday by Xinhua.

"The exercises are not considering a third party as an enemy."

China is locked in a maritime dispute with the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, where several other nations also have competing claims.

Chinese analysts said the exercises marked warming relations between Beijing and Moscow.

"Joint military exercises can be regarded as the highest level of cooperation between two countries," Zhao Huasheng, head of the Russia and Central Asia research centre at Fudan University, told AFP.

The exercises also gave the Chinese military a chance to interact with a more advanced force as China tries to improve its defence capabilities.

"Compared with Russia, China still has much room for improvement in military affairs, not even to mention the United States," Feng Shaolei, head of East China Normal University's centre for Russian Studies, told AFP.

While not directing the exercises at other countries, China was aware of the greater implications, he said.

"Maintaining regional stability is the long-term objective of these military exercises," Feng said.

China also has a long-running dispute with Japan over another chain of islands in the East China Sea, which sit in rich fishing grounds that may also harbour energy resources.

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