May 26, 2006

Six countries to simulate Asian naval security drill

TOKYO/BEIJING (Reuters) - Coastguards from the United
States, Japan, China, South Korea, Canada and Russia will hold
a joint maritime exercise for six days from Saturday, chasing a
ship suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction.

Officials said this week it would be the first time China
had taken part in such a joint exercise at sea.

The operations are based on a scenario that the ship with
the suspicious freight, scheduled to make a port call in
Shanghai, rejects Chinese requests to give details of its
cargo, the organizers said.

The Chinese turn the ship away and follow it out to sea.

Coastguards from South Korea, Japan and Russia join the
chase, while a U.S. coastguard vessel will act as the suspect

The Japanese Coastguard plans to start chasing the suspect
ship on Monday and inspect it in Japanese waters on Tuesday.

Japanese Coastguard officials stressed that the joint
exercises were different from the U.S.-led Proliferation
Security Initiative (PSI) because no military forces were

"The exercises are aimed at ensuring maritime security and
preventing terrorism," said a Japanese Coastguard official.

In October 2004, Japan hosted the U.S.-led PSI, Asia's
first such naval exercise, in waters near North Korea.

Australia, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand are
the only Asia-Pacific region countries to publicly support the
PSI, although the group says it has backing from more than 60

China and South Korea have been reluctant to join the
initiative, apparently to avoid offending North Korea -- the
reclusive communist state with nuclear ambitions that are the
subject of stalled six-party talks joining China, the two
Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States.

The joint exercises will take place in the East China Sea
where Japan and China are in dispute over gas fields and
sovereignty over a group of small islands.