China announces navy drill ahead of U.S. show of force

BEIJING Sat Aug 28, 2010 11:35pm EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese navy will hold a live-ammunition exercise in the Yellow Sea, where Washington and Seoul announced their own plan for a military exercise that has riled Beijing, China's Ministry of Defense said on Sunday.

The Ministry said a naval fleet will stage the drill this week from Wednesday to Saturday in the sea between China and the Korean peninsula, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"This is an annual routine training exercise, mainly involving the firing of shipboard artillery," the Ministry said, according to Xinhua.

The announcement, nonetheless, follows a pattern of China publicizing its own military exercises in parallel to those held by Washington and Seoul, which Beijing has criticized as destabilizing at a time of tensions over North Korea.

China said its naval exercise will be held off its coastal city of Qingdao, meaning they will be well away from the U.S.-South Korea exercises in waters closer to the Korean coast.

The North's secretive leader Kim Jong-il appears to be now visiting China, his country's only major ally, Chinese and South Korean sources have said.

Friction between Beijing and Washington over Chinese maritime claims and U.S. naval activities has added to irritants between the two countries, which have also sparred this year over Taiwan, Tibet, the Internet and Chinese exchange rate policy.

The United States has criticized Chinese claims to swathes of the South China Sea, where Taiwan and several Southeast Asian states also assert sovereignty.

The United States has said it will conduct an anti-submarine warfare exercise with South Korea in the Yellow Sea in early September. That is intended to send a warning to North Korea that Washington is committed to defending its ally, South Korea, the Pentagon said this month.

Last month, the United States and South Korea held a naval drill in the Sea of Japan off the Korean peninsula, prompting condemnation from China, which answered with its own heavily publicized military exercises.

The July drill was initially scheduled to take place in the Yellow Sea, but was moved to the other side of the Korean peninsula after objections from Beijing.

The United States and South Korea accuse North Korea of torpedoing a South Korean naval ship in March, killing 46 sailors.

Chinese military newspapers have said the U.S.-led military exercises in the Yellow Sea would be unduly provocative at a time of volatile tensions over North Korea.

Chinese Rear Admiral Yang Yi also said that those exercises would be provocatively close to north China's political and economic heartland.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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