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China, Russia Holding Joint Antiterrorism Exercise

BEIJING/MOSCOW (Reuters) -- China and Russia are holding a joint military exercise, with the drill seen as a chance to beef up antiterrorism cooperation after the recent flare-up of violence in China's Xinjiang region.

The "Peace Mission 2009" five-day exercise in northeast China comes weeks after China's worst ethnic unrest in decades between Muslim Uyighurs and Han Chinese in the far-western region of Xinjiang that killed at least 197 people.

"To some extent, the July 5 Xinjiang riot pushed forward antiterrorism cooperation between China and Russia," the "China Daily" newspaper quoted Major Wang Haiyun, a former Chinese military attache to Russia, as saying.

Russia itself has been grappling with rising violence in the North Caucasus regions of Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Chechnya. Russia and China are also wary of a rising tide of instability in post-Soviet Central Asia that has spilled over from Afghanistan.

"The situation in Central Asia itself, including Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, is not so good, so that's the most likely area of practical cooperation. And in fact they're learning new ways to fight against Islamic insurgents and Uyghurs," said Vassily Kashin, a Chinese military expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Moscow.

Russia and China are core members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which some experts say is an attempt to form an alternative military bloc to NATO to counter the rising threats of separatism and extremism in Central Asia.

The SCO's members also include the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

'World's Policeman'

"Some NATO officials...fancy it is up to them to look after world order, performing the role of the world's policeman," said Russian military analyst Viktor Litovkin. "But the situation in Afghanistan shows that NATO without Russia, without assistance from the Central Asian states, China and other leading nations of the region is unable to deal alone with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda."

But some analysts said the smaller scale of the current bilateral exercise compared with a similar one in 2007 under the SCO reflects a recent cooling of Sino-Russian military ties.

"In reality they are downgrading or reducing their military ties for the past couple of years," said Andrew Yang, the head of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan.

"[China has] already reached a stage where they can produce or develop their own indigenous and advanced weapons systems. They're no longer totally reliant on Russian support," he said.

When asked during a video link with Beijing what new weapons Russia would show off during the drills, military analyst Litovkin said he believed there would not be any.

The exercise will involve some 3,000 army and air force personnel and over 40 fighters and helicopter gunships.

Russia's Zvezda television channel said the movement of Russian troops and weapons to China for the exercises was the biggest deployment of forces abroad by the nation's Far Eastern Military District since World War II, when the Soviet Union crushed Japan's armed forces in China and Korea.

A Chinese fighter-bomber crashed during preparations for the military drill with Russia on July 19, killing two pilots.