War games end with a picnic for troops of Moscow and Beijing

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The Independent Online

China's first joint military exercises with Russia ended with a picnic yesterday as officials said the war-games had lifted relations between the two countries to an all-time high and provided the possibility for further co-operation.

Eight days of drills involving more than 10,000 troops from their 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 outdoor "family-style lunch" of noodles, braised eggplant and fried fish washed down with beer, the 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 the Chinese Defence Minister, Cao Gangchuan, as saying.

It added in a commentary: "China and Russia have reached an unprecedented height in their strategic partnership."

Ties between Beijing and Moscow, which share a 2,700 mile (4,300km) frontier have grown closer in recent years around points of common ground that include concern about instability in central Asia. Both want to keep political turmoil in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan from spilling over their borders and to check the growing US presence in the region.

They are also participants in six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear situation, 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.

The state-run People's Daily said the two countries would increase military trade to a value of up to £44bn annually by 2010.

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