China and Russia kicked off their biggest yet joint naval drill in the Sea of Japan yesterday, amid warming ties between the former rivals.
The week-long "Joint Sea-2013" exercise runs until July 12 in the Peter the Great Gulf in the Sea of Japan. It will also involve a three-day live-fire exercise from today.
The People's Liberation Army Daily said China had sent four destroyers, two frigates and one supply ship, while the Russian Pacific Fleet dispatched 12 advanced warships, including its flagship cruiser the Varyag, the destroyer Admiral Vinogradov, a Kilo-class submarine and other vessels.
Japan's Ministry of Defence said both Tokyo and Washington will send surveillance planes and warships to closely monitor the drill. The ministry earlier this week announced that it will stage a five-day joint US-Japanese aircraft drill from Monday in Hokkaido, which is 800 kilometres from the Peter the Great Gulf.
Xinhua yesterday published an English commentary, calling on both Japan and the United States not to worry about the drill.
It said the drill "would by no means imply any change in China's defence policy".
However, the commentary also noted: "It is true that the drill comes at a time when tensions remain over an island dispute between China and Japan and when China's first aircraft carrier [the Liaoning] has just gone into service."
The commentary also accused the US and Japan of staging joint drills last month simulating the recapture of an island at a time when "tension over the Diaoyu Islands was at its very height".
Shanghai-based military commentator Ni Lexiong said Beijing wants to use the joint drill to threaten Japan and put diplomatic pressure on the United States.
"China wants to tell the US that it is now moving closer to Russia, which is ambitious enough to expand its maritime power," he said, adding that Russia's maritime growth will challenge the global power of the United States.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said both China and Russia wanted to use the drill to rebuild their image on the international stage.
"China wants to show the world its naval achievements over the past decades; not only the largest ever fleet it has sent overseas, but also its ability to sail further in the high seas, as well as the navy's confidence and capacity to cooperate with a foreign maritime partner like Russia in unknown sea areas," Li said.
"The Russian navy also wants to use this drill to send a signal to the world that it's ready to return to the international arena."
Russia sent its second most powerful naval fleet to take part in the joint drill, reminding the world that its predecessor - the Soviet navy - was once the world's second most powerful fleet after the US before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his navy had deployed a unit to the Mediterranean Sea to defend Russian security in the region.
The announcement came days after Moscow said it had planned to resume patrols by nuclear-armed submarines in the southern oceans.