China and Russia began eight days of joint naval exercises on Monday as the two nations moved to strengthen military cooperation. While China has maintained that the maneuvers do not target any specific third parties, their South China Sea setting has drawn criticism given the fierce territorial disputes in the region.
The "Joint Sea-2016" war games aim to "consolidate and advance the Sino-Russian comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination, and deepen friendly and practical cooperation between the two militaries," said Liang Yang, a spokesman for the Chinese navy.
Russia media said that 18 ships, including submarines and amphibious vehicles, as well as 21 aircraft and 250 military personnel from both sides would be participating in the exercise.
China balks at Hague ruling
United in their wariness of the US and its allies, joint drills between Beijing and Moscow have become more frequent in the past four years. After a recent ruling by an arbitration panel in the Hague rejected China's claim to nearly the whole South China Sea, Russia was also the only major country to back China in calling for Western countries to stay out of regional disagreements.
Beijing said the ruling was "null and void" and announced its intention to continue land-reclamation projects in the disputed Spratly archipelago, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Trade in the contentious corridor is worth some $5 trillion a year.
The US has accused China of promoting instability in the region. While on a visit there last month, Admiral Scott Swift said "there are other places those exercises could have been conducted," and implied that Beijing was being deliberately provocative.
es/kms (AP, dpa)