Apr 30, 9:02 AM EDT

Navies from China, Russia to hold first Mediterranean Sea joint drills

Latest News
Russia's new Armata tank makes much-anticipated public debut in Moscow parade rehearsal

Pro-Putin bikers lay wreath at Russian monument in Vienna en route to Berlin

Lithuania protests against Russian interference with Baltic Sea power cable construction

Polish biker says at least 1 Night Wolves member made it into the country despite ban

Billboards praising Stalin go up in Russian-annexed Crimea ahead of Victory Day

Video photo gallery on trash in China
China celebrates 60th year
Panorama of Tiananmen Square
Remembering Tiananmen
A year after China quake
Migrant laborers struggle to find work
Checking Beijing's Air
China's morning exercises in parks
Exploring Chinese Cuisine
Beijing Architecture Changes For Games
Woman Rescues Homeless Quake Dogs
China Holds Funeral for Panda
China's 1-child Policy Causes Extra Pain
Map of Earthquake Zone in Central China
Entrepreneurs Move Into, Out of China
Olypmics in Beijing Highlight China's Water Woes
Foreign Buyers Head to China Despite Problems
Coal Use Produces Pollution, Illness
Coal Means Profit, Woes for China
China Extending Its Reach Around the World
In China, the Desert Closes In
Latest News
In China, Taiwan party leader urges more opportunity for island to take part in world affairs

UN official praises China's response to Nepal quake, says its development status will grow

US pilot, Chinese passenger killed in light aircraft crash in eastern China

EMBA with a twist for China's top communists; party teaches elite about West despite backlash

Police in southern China raid office of car-hailing app Uber in crackdown on sector

Buy AP Photo Reprints
Four Simple Exercises
Kids Fitness Centers
Audio Slideshow
Panorama of Tiananmen Square
Remembering Tiananmen
Russia Celebrates Summer Solstice

BEIJING (AP) -- The navies of China and Russia plan to hold joint drills in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in mid-May, China's Defense Ministry announced Thursday, in the latest expansion of the growing informal partnership between the two militaries.

The exercises also illustrate China's continued engagement with Russia at a time when Moscow has been shunned by much of the international community over its support for separatist rebels in Ukraine.

The "Joint Sea 2015" exercises will feature nine surface ships, including three from China that are currently taking part in anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia, ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng told a monthly news conference.

The drills involve rescue, resupply and other missions, including the firing of live ammunition, Geng said.

"The purpose of the exercise is to strengthen the friendly exchanges between the two sides ... and to improve the capability of the two navies to deal with maritime threats," Geng said. He said the drills did not target any third parties and were not a response to fighting and instability in places such as Libya and Syria, he said.

China and Russia frequently align on major international issues and Beijing has refused to join in the condemnations and economic sanctions leveled against Moscow for its backing of the Ukrainian rebels.

In a further show of support, Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to attend commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Moscow on May 9. Most Western leaders are staying away from the event featuring a massive military parade, in which a 112-strong honor guard from the Chinese army, navy and air force will also take part.

The two nation's militaries have increased their joint training operations in recent years, sometimes under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional grouping formed partly to counter U.S. influence in Central Asia.

China has also looked to Russia for support in its perpetual feud with archrival Japan over World War II history and the shifting balance of power in Asia.

In other remarks Thursday, Geng harshly questioned a revision of the U.S.-Japan defense guidelines that will allow Japan's military to play a bigger role in global military operations and work more closely with U.S. forces.

"A military alliance is an outdated product that goes against the trend of the times characterized by peace, development, cooperation and win-win," Geng said.

"What kind of impact will it have on world and regional peace and stability to beef up the U.S.-Japan military alliance and expand their defense cooperation to the whole world? This is a question that needs to be asked by all sides," he said.

The latest drills with Russia are a further extension of China's drive to build a true "blue water navy" able to operate for long periods and at vast distances from home ports.

China's navy began expanding its reach toward the Mediterranean in 2008, when it first sent ships to join in the anti-piracy patrols.

In 2011, it took the unprecedented step of sending one of its most sophisticated warships together with military transport aircraft to help in the evacuation of about 35,000 Chinese citizens from Libya. Early this April, China detached three navy ships from the anti-piracy patrols to rescue Chinese citizens and other foreign nationals from fighting in Yemen.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.