BEIJING (Reuters) - China denied on Tuesday media reports that an artillery drill in the East China Sea was in response to a planned military exercise between South Korea and the United States.
The 6-day, live ammunition exercise starting on Wednesday in the East China Sea off China’s coast was seen by some analysts as a “response to a (planned) joint exercise between the United States and Republic of Korea navies in the Yellow Sea,” said the China Daily, the country’s official English-language newspaper.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, said there was no such link and a Chinese military officer said the timing was coincidental.
“This is a regular military exercise,” the spokesman Qin told a regular news conference. “This is not related to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.”
Li Daguang, a professor at China’s National Defence University and a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer, said the exercise was “not aimed at the U.S.-South Korea joint exercise.”
“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 told the Wen Wei Po, a Hong Kong newspaper under mainland control.
“The outside world shouldn’t read anything into this.”
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 said officially whether an aircraft carrier would participate, as some news reports citing Pentagon sources have suggested.
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.
U.S. Defence 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 Paul Tait