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China, Malaysia to Hold First-Ever Military Drills

FILE - Members of Malaysia's maritime forces march during National Day celebrations marking the 56th anniversary of the country's independence, at Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur, August 31, 2013.
China and Malaysia, which have competing territorial claims, have agreed to hold landmark military drills next year.

Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein made the announcement Wednesday during a three-day official visit to Beijing.

Hussein said it is the first time the two countries have held joint military exercises since establishing formal defense ties in 2005.

Malaysia and China both claim parts of the resource-laden South China Sea, as do the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

China is accused by many of aggressively defending its claims to almost the entire 3.5 million-square-kilometer area.

But Malaysia, which enjoys strong economic ties with China, has been more muted in its criticism of Beijing's activities there.

Hussein's statement gave little information on the drills, but said they were part of wider efforts to expand defense ties with China.

The statement comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed similar sentiments about military cooperation during a visit to Malaysia this month.

Hussein also said he has invited Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan to visit a Malaysian naval base in the South China Sea.

He said the visit is aimed at starting "direct contact" between Malaysia's naval forces and China's South Sea Fleet.