BEIJING (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday he will boost military cooperation with China, including holding more joint exercises, after the United States announced plans to shift most of its warships to the Asia-Pacific by 2020.
Putin referred to recent Sino-Russian joint navy exercises in the Yellow Sea as an example of military cooperation which, he said, would go on.
“We will continue cooperation also between our military,” he told Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in Beijing, where he is attending a security summit and meeting his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao.
“Recently joint navy exercises were held in the Yellow Sea, and they were the first of such exercises. We have agreed with Chairman Hu that we will continue such cooperation,” Putin said.
Chinese and Russian naval forces held six days of exercises in the Yellow Sea off China’s east coast in April, with drills including anti-submarine operations and the rescue of hijacked vessels.
China deployed 16 ships and two submarines, while Russia sent four warships from its Pacific fleet, according to Chinese state media.
“We assign an important role to the joint initiative on strengthening security in the Asia-Pacific region and in this context we will maintain the relationship between our militaries,” Putin said in an earlier statement.
“We favor the formation of an open and equal-minded security and cooperation architecture in the region, based on the principles of international law,” he said.
China and Russia have forged close economic and diplomatic ties following years of hostility and suspicion during a large part of the Cold War, and both have looked askance at U.S. military involvement in what they view as their backyards.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Saturday the United States would reposition its naval fleet so that 60 percent of its battleships would be in the Asia-Pacific by the end of the decade, up from about 50 percent now.
China has long been wary of U.S. intentions, with hawkish voices in the People’s Liberation Army saying that the United States was bent on encircling China and crippling its rise.
China’s fast-modernizing navy has stirred worries among neighbors, including in Southeast Asia, where several countries are in dispute with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Under the U.S. plans, Panetta announced the Navy would maintain six aircraft carriers assigned to the Pacific. Six of its 11 carriers are now assigned to the Pacific, but that will fall to five when the USS Enterprise is decommissioned soon.
The number will return to six when a new carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, is completed in 2015.
The U.S. Navy had a fleet of 282 ships as of March. That is expected to slip to about 276 over the next two years before beginning to rise toward the goal of a 300-ship fleet, according to a 30-year Navy projection released in March.
Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel