China will participate in its largest ever joint naval drills this week as it joins Russia for military exercises in the Sea of Japan.
The drills, which analysts believe come in response to last month's live-fire exercises between the US and Japanese navies, are expected to begin on Friday and last eight days.
The People's Liberation Army Daily reported yesterday that the PLA Navy and the Russian Pacific Fleet would stage its "Joint Sea-2013" exercises in the Sea of Japan's Peter the Great Gulf.
The two militaries also plan to hold an anti-terrorism drill named "Peace Mission-2013" in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk from July 27 to August 15.
The joint naval drills were announced by the PLA's chief of general staff, General Fang Fenghui and his Russian counterpart, Valery Gerasimov, at a press conference in Moscow, Xinhua reported.
The announcement was made less than a week after the United States and Japan finished ship-to-shore exercises at a training range off the San Diego coast.
China would send seven ships, four destroyers, two escort vessels and a supply ship to the upcoming manoeuvres, the largest number of PLA Navy vessels ever sent to participate in naval exercises with a foreign military force, the military's mouthpiece said.
In all, 18 vessels, three planes, five carrier-based helicopters and two teams of special forces would participate in the drills, Xinhua said.
The exercises come amid lingering tensions in the East China Sea, in which Beijing and Tokyo have conducted rival patrols near the disputed Diaoyu Islands, which are known as the Senkakus in Japan. The US-Japan drills simulated retaking a remote island.
But Fang insisted the Sino-Russia joint drills were intended to strengthen ties between the two militaries and enhance their joint mission capability, rather than send a message to any third party, Xinhua reported.
Shanghai-based military expert Ni Lexiong said such assurances were not convincing.
"All military drills have imaginary enemies, otherwise it's just a game," Ni said. "For the US and Japan, their joint drills in San Diego targeted China. And the upcoming Sino-Russian exercises will obviously target Japan or even the US in response."
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said Moscow hoped to use the joint drills to show off its military muscle and declare its navy "ready to return to the world arena". He noted that the Soviet navy was once the world's second-biggest maritime power."