BEIJING (Reuters) - China has shown off its growing military strength with naval exercises off its eastern coast, shortly before Washington and Seoul are expected to carry out their own drills which Beijing has criticised.
State television broadcast images on Tuesday it said showed the East Sea Fleet on recent manoeuvres, including helicopters and a submarine launching a long-range missile underwater.
It did not say exactly where or when the pictures were taken and it was not clear if they showed a drill that the official Xinhua news agency said took place over the weekend.
Xinhua said four rescue helicopters and four rescue ships were deployed in the two-day drill in the Yellow Sea, where the United States and South Korea are planning manoeuvres aimed at sending a message of deterrence to North Korea.
Beijing has condemned those drills, which many in China feel are also aimed at their country.
Zhu Chenghu, a strategic studies professor at the National Defence University, told the China News Service that the U.S.-South Korean drills were clearly aimed at sending Beijing a message as much as they were directed at North Korea.
“They will take place in the Yellow Sea, which is the entry point to China’s house, and they obviously want to show off their military strength,” he said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed concerns on Tuesday, saying the drills were routine.
Neither Xinhua nor state television mentioned the U.S.-South Korean exercises. But the official China Daily quoted experts downplaying the Chinese drill, which started on Saturday.
“The nature of the drill is very different from that of the US-ROK joint military action,” Beijing-based military analyst Peng Guangqian was quoted saying.
China’s exercises rehearsed how to defend against long-distance attacks, as well as exploring ways to integrate troops and civilians to tackle emergencies, Xinhua said.
Tensions in the Korean Peninsula have risen since the sinking in March of a South Korean warship killed 46 sailors. An investigation launched by Seoul but including international experts concluded a North Korean torpedo had hit the ship.
North Korea has denied responsibility and long-time ally China has not accepted the findings of the investigation.
China has repeatedly criticised the U.S.-South Korean drills.
“We resolutely oppose any activities in the Yellow Sea that may threaten China’s security,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang told a routine news conference last Thursday.
China’s growing military clout and rising defence spending have raised concern in Asia, especially in Japan.
Taiwan, the self-ruled island China claims as its own, warned this week that its huge neighbour was still aiming missiles at it, despite warming business and trade ties.
(Additional reporting by Huang Yan, editing by Andrew Marshall)