China, South Korea explain absence from maritime drill


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BEIJING (Reuters) - China is not taking part in a pan-Asian security drill that began over the weekend because its forces have "another mission", the foreign ministry said on Monday.
"According to our understanding, because related departments have another mission at this time, the Chinese side will not partake in this exercise," the ministry said in a short statement faxed to Reuters.
South Korea, which had originally been expected to join the drill, also did not take part because of a last-minute change in its objective, a South Korean Coast Guard official said.
The Japanese Coast Guard attributed the absences to an apparent misunderstanding over the purpose of the exercise.
The scenario was based on a simulation of a suspicious ship being refused entry to Shanghai port and then being tracked by Chinese and other coast guard vessels in turn as it heads away.
The United States, Canada, Japan and Russia are taking part in the exercise. It would have been the first time that China had been involved in such a joint drill.
Japanese coast guard officials coordinating the event have stressed that the exercise is not connected to the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) because no military forces are involved.
China and South Korea have been reluctant to join the PSI, which aims to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction, apparently to avoid offending North Korea, the reclusive communist state with nuclear ambitions that are the subject of six-way talks.
The initial plan for the drill had included a reference to the suspicious vessel being from a country suspected of exporting weapons of mass destruction.
Although the Japan Coast Guard later altered the scenario to delete this reference, officials said it appeared to have been misunderstood by the Chinese.
South Korean Coast Guard said targeting a weapons of mass destruction-exporting country was itself a change from the initial plan that had been in the works since last year.
"We requested a change of scenario and a delay of the drill. The scenario was changed, but delay was not accepted. So we decided not to take part," the South Korean coast guard official said by telephone.
The decision to sit out the drill was not prompted by concern about North Korea, the official said, adding that South Korea would participate in similar future drills.