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NAVY EXERCISES SHOW THAT SKEPTICISM ABOUT MOSCOW IS STILL AFLOAT

SHARE NAVY EXERCISES SHOW THAT SKEPTICISM ABOUT MOSCOW IS STILL AFLOAT

The U.S. Navy has turned out in full force to reaffirm security ties with its Asian allies, with a senior commander showing skepticism about Moscow's declared intent to scale down its regional presence.

The navy dispatched 53 major warships to the western Pacific in the largest maneuver of its kind, a series of bilateral exercises with Japan and South Korea called PACEX '89.Vice Adm. Henry Mauz, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, denied Saturday that Washington was looking for a NATO-like alignment among allies in the region.

"There is no operational linkage and I don't think it's possible in the forseeable future," Mauz told reporters flown to the aircraft carrier Enterprise.

Although Moscow had spoken about unilateral cutbacks, the number of Soviet ships in the region remained about the same, he said, adding: "They are moving in their top-line vessels here from their Northern and Baltic fleets."

In a monthlong exercise with Japan which ended this week, army and air force units held joint maneuvers involving as many as 100 Japanese ships, the 53 U.S. vessels and about 400 aircraft from both sides.

The 7th Fleet is to conduct exercises with South Korean navy units in the next few weeks.

A Soviet Embassy official in Tokyo said Moscow was highly critical of the exercise. "It only raises tension in the Asia-Pacific region," the official said.

Aboard the Enterprise, reporters watched a classic World War II-style gunnery practice as the battleships USS New Jersey and Missouri fired salvoes of live ammunition against a target ship.

Japanese newspapers have criticized the joint exercise as a move toward forming a military bloc that would stand even if Moscow decreased its military presence.

Japan's opposition Socialists, who dealt a severe blow to the pro-American ruling Liberal Democrats in July parliamentary elections, want to scale down military ties with Washington.

"PACEX '89 has a strong political meaning," said Haruo Fujii, a Japanese military analyst and specialist in Soviet military affairs.

"There is a sense of crisis on the part of the United States and therefore it attaches great importance to the Asia-Pacific region," he said.

In the Philippines, the United States faces the possibility of losing its largest naval and air force bases in the region - Subic Bay and Clark Air Base - if Washington fails to renew a base treaty with Manila by 1992.

And some U.S. congressmen have said the Pentagon should halve the number of troops stationed in South Korea.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced a substantial cutback in the Far East, mainly among troops stationed along the Sino-Soviet border.

But both Japan and the United States have said the Soviet Union was improving the quality of its units while cutting down on actual numbers.