China and Russia began their first joint naval exercise on Sunday in the Yellow Sea off China's east coast, China's official news agency Xinhua reported. The six-day-long joint naval drills are being conducted amid the Chinese standoff with its neighbors over territorial disputes.

The historic first joint naval drill ever by the two powers involves a total of 16 vessels, including two submarines from the Chinese navy and four warships from the Russian navy's Pacific Fleet.

Five missile destroyers, five missile frigates, four missile boats and a support vessel and hospital ship are also taking part. Along with them are 13 aircraft and five shipboard helicopters, Xinhuanet reported. More than 4,000 Chinese servicemen are taking part in the drill, according to Navy sources.

The Russian warships include the Pacific Fleet's flagship Varyag, a Slava-class guided missile cruiser and the Marshal Shaposhnikov, Admiral Panteleyev and Admiral Vinogradov, three Udaloy-class destroyers, said the report.

China said on Thursday that the exercises were aimed at upholding regional peace.

This joint military exercise is a long scheduled one between China and Russia in order to uphold regional peace and stability, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a regular news briefing, AFP reported.

The exercise will focus on joint maritime air defense and the defense of sea lanes, including joint escort, maritime search and rescue, anti-submarine tactics as well as joint effort to rescue hijacked vessels, according to the Xinhuanet report.