BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese military denied media reports that an artillery drill in the East China Sea was a rebuke of a planned military exercise between South Korea and the United States.
Analysts and a military officer said the live ammunition exercise starting on Wednesday that will close off parts of the East China Sea off China’s coast over six days were routine and the timing was coincidental.
“The PLA artillery exercise in the East China Sea and the joint U.S.-South Korea exercise in the Yellow Sea are a complete coincidence,” Li Daguang, a professor at China’s National Defense University told the Wen Wei Po, a Hong Kong newspaper under mainland control.
“The outside world shouldn’t read anything into this.”
Li, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer, said the firing exercise was a routine one and “not aimed at the U.S.-South Korea joint exercise.”
But the China Daily, the country’s official English-language newspaper, said some analysts saw the announcement of the exercise as a “response to a joint exercise between the United States and Republic of Korea navies in the Yellow Sea.”
The Yellow Sea lies to the north of the East China Sea, and the areas of the two exercises would not overlap.
China’s Foreign Ministry said last week it was concerned about reports a U.S. aircraft carrier may join the anti-submarine exercise with South Korea following a standoff with North Korea over the sinking of a warship from the South.
“Though the Chinese government did not say anything about the drill, anybody with common sense on military strategy will bet that they are related,” one expert on China-U.S. relations, Shi Yinhong of Renmin University in Beijing, told the China Daily.
The joint exercise that had been expected this month will most likely take place in July, although a date has yet to be set, the Pentagon said on Monday.
Washington has not officially said whether an aircraft carrier could participate, as some news reports have suggested, citing Pentagon sources.
Beijing has been angered by U.S. navy ships engaging in surveillance in waters close to China’s southern coast.
Earlier this year, Beijing curtailed contacts with the Pentagon over continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims as its own territory.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this month China’s decision to break off military-to-military contacts could undercut regional stability.
Gates said the PLA was the main obstruction in the way of improved relations, and suggested its position was at odds with that of the country’s political leadership.
Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Sugita Katyal