Monday, August 29, 2005

China toasts war games with Russia with a picnic

China praised its first joint military exercises with Russia on Friday for lifting relations to an all-time high and opening room for further cooperation.

Eight days of drills involving more than 10,000 troops from the former Cold War foes' armies, navies and air forces concluded on Thursday with a practice air and ground assault in China's eastern Shandong province.

The last event on the schedule was an outside "family-style lunch" of noodles, braised eggplant and fried fish washed down with beer as tank engines roared in the background, Xinhua news agency said.

"Through the exercises, the two armed forces... improved their capabilities to meet new challenges and threats and to fight international terrorism, extremism and separatism," Xinhua quoted Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan as saying.

"China and Russia have reached an unprecedented height in their strategic partnership," it said in a commentary.

The same day the drills ended, the prime minister of the Ingushetia republic in southern Russia was injured in an assassination attempt. A bodyguard was killed in the bombing near the border with Chechnya, where separatists have fought Russian rule for a decade.

Ties between Beijing and Moscow have grown closer in recent years around points of common ground that include concern about instability in Central Asia. Both countries want to keep political turmoil in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan from spilling over their borders and to check the U.S. presence in the region.

The two countries, which share a 4,300-km (2,700-mile) frontier, are also players in six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear crisis, reflecting shared security interests.

China has been looking to Russia for energy resources to feed its booming economy, while Moscow is keen to boost sales to Beijing of military hardware like the advanced bombers and fighter jets showcased during the war games.

The state-run People's Daily said on Friday the two countries would increase military trade from the current volume of $60 billion to $80 billion by 2010.