China reiterated on Monday that a drill with Russia in the Yellow Sea has a peaceful purpose and is not a response to the drill being conducted by South Korea and the United States.
The six-day drill is meant to deepen the partnership that exists between China and Russia, said Liu Weimin, Foreign Ministry spokesman. It is also intended to ensure regional peace and stability by tackling threats such as terrorism, natural disasters and piracy, Liu said.
"As a big country in the Asia-Pacific region, China has a great responsibility to use this drill to contribute to regional stability and peace," he said. "We hope the various parties will view this drill objectively and not link it with other events."
China and Russia launched their first joint naval exercise on Sunday near Qingdao, a city in Shandong province. The drill was the result of an agreement reached during a visit by Chen Bingde, People's Liberation Army chief of general staff, during a visit to Moscow in August last year.
Both countries have repeatedly said the exercises are normal and defensive in nature. But the unprecedented number of ships and servicemen that are taking part in it has aroused suspicions that China is flexing its military muscles and sending a warning to neighbors with which it has had maritime disputes.
The drill unsettled several of China's neighbors - including South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and India - which are already concerned about China's role in the region, Joshua Eisenman, a researcher in China studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, told AFP.
China's National Defense Ministry said the exercises consisted of maritime air defense and anti-submarine tactics, maritime searches and rescues and rescuing hijacked vessels.
More than 4,000 Chinese servicemen, 16 vessels and two submarines from the Chinese navy are taking part in the drill, as are 13 aircraft and five shipboard helicopters.
Also taking part is a Russian task force consisting of four warships from the country's Pacific fleet and three supply ships. China and Russia have joined together to hold four military exercises since 2005, some of which have involved other countries within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
"Joint drills have become the regular means of military cooperation between China and Russia, helping to improve both armies' structures, mutual trust and military transparency," Luo Yuan, a researcher with the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, told Xinhua on Sunday.