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China, US calm regional tensions at ASEAN defense conference

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Doan Ky Thanh/Reuters

(Read caption) China's Defense Minister Liang Guanglie (r.) and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates pose for a photo before their meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, Oct. 11.

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China's defense chief met Tuesday with his counterparts from Japan and the United States, as the nations worked to ease tensions over a string of recent maritime disputes in East Asia.

Yet in a sign that tensions remain palpable and that the US sees the region as a vital security interest, a US-led multinational naval exercise focused on stopping the transfer of WMDs got underway off the coast of South Korea on Wednesday. China's nonparticipation in the exercises comes just days after Beijing pointedly did not invite the US to naval exercises it held in the Yellow Sea with Australia's Navy.

Ten naval vessels from the US, Japan, and South Korea, as well as aircraft from Australia, are involved in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) exercise, which a South Korean official said "practices how to stop and search ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction," according to Seoul-based Yonhap News. South Korea became a full PSI member in May after the sinking of its naval corvette the Cheonan, which it blamed on North Korea.

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