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Yellow Sea Venue for Rival War Games

The Yellow Sea is again the setting for naval war games. China has started a four-day artillery exercise in waters off Qingdao. The United States and South Korea are to hold joint drills in the same waters in a few days.

China's Defense Ministry, according to the Xinhua news agency, describes the naval drill, which began Wednesday, as routine training.

The maneuvers come just ahead of a second round of war games in the same waters by the United States and South Korea. That exercise begins Sunday in the Yellow Sea, between northern China and the Korean peninsula.

Baek Seungjoo is the director of the Center for Security and Strategy at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. He says Beijing's announcement of its drill likely means it is a response to the U.S.-South Korean exercises.

Baek interprets the training as a way for Beijing to flex its muscles. But, he says, in itself the exercise should not be seen as provocative. Baek also emphasizes it is not a demonstration of closer military ties with Pyongyang.

However, Chinese news reports say discussions about that military relationship are under way.

Xinhua says China's military leaders, while visiting North Korea on Wednesday, pledged to increase military exchanges with Pyongyang.

China has repeatedly objected to U.S. exercises in the Yellow Sea, even though most of it lies in international waters. Beijing says the sea is part of its security perimeter.

The maritime boundary between the two Koreas in the Yellow Sea also is disputed.

Military leaders from Washington and Seoul say that a series of exercises over the past few months is meant to demonstrate to North Korea that the U.S. remains committed to defending South Korea.

Tensions have increased on the Korean peninsula since the sinking of a South Korean naval ship in the Yellow Sea in March. An international investigation concluded the Cheonan was hit by a North Korean torpedo. Pyongyang denies responsibility.