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China, Russia begin naval war games

China and Russia began their first-ever joint naval exercises on Sunday, focusing on air defense, anti-submarine tactics, search and rescue, as well as joint efforts to rescue hijacked vessels, Chinese media reported.

The large-scale war game is scheduled to run through Friday off the resort city of Qingdao in the Yellow Sea, Xinhua said. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said the six days of drills would include electronic countermeasures and other sensitive technologies.

China has deployed 16 ships and two submarines, and Russia sent the guided-missile cruiser Varyag, three Udaloy class destroyers and three support ships, the Russian news agency Ria Novosti reported.

Chen Bingde, Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, said the drill would strengthen the naval forces' ability to jointly confront regional threats.

Since 2005, China and Russia have conducted several joint military exercises within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. But this is the first time the nations' navies have conducted joint exercises.

The new drill comes after President Barack Obama last November signaled a "return to Asia" by the United States following a decade of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Formerly Cold War rivals for leadership of the communist world, China and Russia have since found common ground in countering liberal democratizing trends across Asia and Eastern Europe and frequently vote against Western initiatives in the United Nations Security Council.

Most recently, they have united to block any U.N. actions on Syrian violence that could lead to some form of humanitarian intervention, a prospect both nations abhor.

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Also, China is competing with the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei for control of parts of the South China Sea.

China and the Philippines are in a standoff over fishing rights in the area. China's most advanced fishing patrol vessel, the Yuzheng 310, arrived Friday to patrol waters off the coast of Scarborough Shoal, China and Voice of America said. The Philippines recently tried to arrest Chinese fishermen in the shoal, but Chinese surveillance ships intervened.

Late Friday, China said authorities released 21 Vietnamese fishermen whom they had detained for more than a month after intercepting their boats near the disputed Paracel islands, known in China as the Xisha Islands.

The Paracels are occupied by China but also claimed by Vietnam.

This article includes reporting by The Associated Press.

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