A File Photo.
BEIJING (PTI): In a move that could escalate tensions in the surcharged Korean peninsula, China said its military forces would kick-off live ammunition exercises in East China Sea from Wednesday in an apparent response to a joint naval manoeuvre between US and South Korea.
"The People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China will launch a six-day, live ammunition drill starting on Wednesday in the East China Sea, a move that analysts said is in response to a joint exercise between the United States and Republic of Korea (ROK) navies in the Yellow Sea," state run China Daily said Tuesday.
East China Sea is off the coast of one of China's main cities Shanghai facing the Korean peninsula and Japan.
The PLA decision was taken on June 24 and released to the media ahead of the commencement of planned exercises by US and South Korea Monday, the Daily said.
But the South Korean navy has already announced that its joint exercises with US have been postponed to July, it said.
According to the PLA announcement, all vessels will be prohibited from entering its designated exercise area from midnight to 6 pm, from June 30 to July 5.
"They must follow orders of the Chinese navy to ensure safety," it said.
An officer of the Ministry of Defence said the PLA's planned drill is routine.
But some analysts said it was rare that China publicise its military exercises days in advance.
The exercises were announced as US-South Korea geared up to conduct their exercises in the aftermath of the drowning of South Korean naval vessel allegedly by North Korea few months ago.
Pyongyang denied its involvement, but an international panel that investigated the incident pointed to a North Korean torpedo being responsible for the sinking of the vessel in which 42 sailors were killed.
The move by China regarded as close ally of Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK-North Korea) seen as an attempt to flex its muscles to stave off any military action against DPRK.
Meanwhile as the pressure mounted North Korea on Monday vowed to strengthen its nuclear weaponry "in a newly developed way" to cope with persistent US hostility and its military threat which was interpreted by many western analysts as a warning that it may have developed a more powerful hydrogen bomb.
Pyongyang also accused the US of bringing heavy weapons into the border truce village of Panmunjom and warned of "strong military countermeasures".
Defending China's move to hold the exercises the China Daily said US and ROK earlier cited DPRK as the target of their drill.
Quoting analysts it said the move is clearly related to the presence of aircraft carrier USS George Washington near China's shores, which put major cities including Beijing and China's coastlines under the US carrier's combat scope.
"Though the Chinese government did not say anything about the drill, anybody with common sense on military strategy will bet that they are related," said Shi Yinhong, a senior expert on US studies at Beijing-based Renmin University of China.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said earlier this month that Beijing is seriously concerned about the US-ROK joint exercise and is closely following the matter.
"Under current situations, relevant parties should exercise restraint and refrain from doing things that may escalate tensions and harm the interests of the countries in the region," Qin said.
Ma Xiaotian, the PLA's deputy chief of staff, said at an annual security conference in Singapore on June 5 that one of the major obstacles in China-US military relations is the "high-intensity surveillance of US warships and planes in the South China Sea and East China Sea".
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was also present at the meeting.
The US and ROK said the joint exercise is targeted at the DPRK after the deadly sinking of an ROK warship in March, but it is "still extremely rare for a major power to send an aircraft carrier that close to another major power," Shi said.
"Any large country has its bottom line for military vigilance and pride. The US-ROK drill has drawn angry response from the Chinese public and I think that is one reason behind its delay."
Chen Hu, editor-in-chief of the World Military magazine affiliated to the Xinhua News Agency, said Beijing does not necessarily see the US-ROK exercise as a provocative act.
"Instead, the PLA can take the presence of the giant aircraft carrier fighting group as a 'drill target'," he said.