China and Russia started a week-long naval exercise in the politically sensitive East China Sea yesterday.
Chinese and Russian units taking part in the Joint Sea-2014 drill will be combined rather than operating separately during the exercise, the first time the Chinese navy has worked so closely with a foreign maritime force, according to Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie. "The mixed confrontation and drill means the exercises will operate more like a real battle," said Li. "It shows the two countries' strategic partnership has entered a high level of cooperation and coordination, even though both Beijing and Moscow insist they are not military allies."
Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said China and Russia had learned from the example of Western countries' joint naval drills, including Nato, where forces were mixed together. It indicated that trust between Beijing and Moscow was increasing.
The drill, in the northern part of the East China Sea, ends on Monday. Forces including 14 ships, two submarines, nine fixed-wing aircraft and six shipboard helicopters will take part, according to a report on the PLA Navy's website.
China and Russia have sent ships including the Chinese navy's latest-generation Zhengzhou and Ningbo missile destroyers as well as Moscow's Varyag missile cruiser. The Type-052C destroyer Zhengzhou is the first PLA warship to be equipped with long-range missiles and detection equipment to combat enemy aircraft and military vessels.
The warships would be divided into three flotillas, with submarines and ships confronting each other, Tian Zhong , the officer directing the drill for China's navy told Xinhua.
The PLA Navy conducted a similar mixed-forces drill last month with seven countries in waters off the coast of Qingdao in Shandong province, but Li said the exercises were more a symbolic gesture of cooperation rather than full-blown naval manoeuvres. Nineteen ships and seven helicopters were divided into three forces during the exercises.
China and Russia's naval units would practise defensive and attacking manoeuvres, carrying out escorts, search and rescue operations, and storming hijacked ships, Xinhua reported.
They will also hold a joint operation to identify aircraft flying over the East China Sea, where Beijing announced an air identification zone in November.
Li said the training showed Russia supported China's move to set up the zone, which requires overseas aircraft to alert the Chinese authorities of their flight plans.
Wong said this was overstated as it was routine to practise aircraft identification during naval drills to ensure civilian planes were not targeted.
"What is a fact, is that both China and Russia have upgraded the annual Joint Sea drill since it was first started three years ago," said Wong.
Beijing and Tokyo are embroiled in an increasingly bitter dispute over the ownership of a group of eight uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, called the Diaoyus in China and the Senkakus in Japan.
Putin meets former Chinese president Jiang
Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks yesterday with his retired Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin. The meeting in Shanghai happened after Putin met current leader Xi Jinping in the morning.
The reappearance of Jiang on the diplomatic scene comes at a sensitive time, as Xi has been pushing a widespread anti-corruption campaign that is perceived to be targeting some former Communist Party elites and their protégés. In recent weeks, many retired senior political figures have made public appearances - a gesture often meant to show support for current leaders or to reassure their own protégés.
By early last night, there was no media report or official statement about what Jiang had said to Putin. But in July, Jiang, 87, gave Xi his full backing during a meeting with former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
Putin thanked Jiang for his contribution to Sino-Russian relations during the meeting and said his policy would be inherited by the current Chinese leadership, according to RIA Novosti's Chinese website.
"I would like to thank you once again for having given such an influential stimulus to bilateral ties," Putin was quoted as saying. "Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping have done a great deal for the development of bilateral relations."
The Voice of Russia also said Putin told Jiang that Russia and China saw eye-to-eye on most issues. "We have no disagreements. On the contrary, we have vast plans that we are fully determined to translate into reality," Putin was reported to have said.
Hu is not scheduled to meet Putin.
Zhang Ming , a political commentator affiliated with Renmin University, said Jiang's experience studying in Russia and ability to speak Russian made him closer to Putin. He said Jiang had deviated from the norm for retired leaders by meeting Putin. "But he did, as a gesture to show he remains in political power," Zhang said.
Another Beijing-based commentator, Zhang Lifan , said Jiang may need to make such appearances to signify that his faction, the "Shanghai clan", was not losing power. "Jiang's appearance may also be a signal that Xi is still not completely in control of everything,"