(LONDON TELEGRAPH) China and Russia have launched what Beijing described as its “largest ever joint naval exercise” as an armada of military hardware descended on the Sea of Japan.

A total of 18 surface vessels, including four guided missile destroyers, two missile frigates, a supply ship, and three ship-borne helicopters were due to take part, according to Chinese state media, as well as a submarine.

The move to deepen military ties between Moscow and Beijing with the operation, called “Joint Sea 2013″, comes against the backdrop of territorial disputes in the region and will heighten fears of China’s growing naval reach and ambition.

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