The Chinese and US militaries held joint disaster response exercises Friday, as Beijing increases its global reach and Washington continues its “pivot” to the Pacific.
The joint drill, which saw officers from both nations express hopes for closer ties, came amid rising concerns in Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam over China’s territorial claims in disputed seas.
During the mock drills at a Chinese military base on the outskirts of Chengdu the two sides worked together on computer-generated disaster scenarios — in fictionalised countries.
“China and the US are separated by the Pacific Ocean. Our two militaries joining hands… answers to the aspirations of the two sides,” Tang Fen, of the People’s Liberation Army, told reporters after the two-day exercise finished.
“This plays a very important role in relations between our two nations and two militaries.”
US Major General Stephen Lyons said: “If there is a country out there, and inevitably there will be, that will have a natural disaster, and they call for international help, if US forces and Chinese forces respond, then indeed we’ll find ourselves working together in the field.”
Earlier this week visiting US navy secretary Ray Mabus welcomed China to participate in future US-led joint naval exercises, and reiterated an invitation made by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta when he visited in September.
“The Chinese side thanks the US side for the invite, and will give it positive consideration,” Geng Yansheng, spokesman for the Chinese defence ministry, said in remarks posted on its website Friday.
The US invitation comes as Washington tries to reassure Beijing over its strategic “pivot” to the Pacific, while China is becoming increasingly assertive in territorial disputes with several of its neighbours — with new passports showing its claims causing diplomatic rows this week.
China said Sunday one of its fighter jets had landed on its new aircraft carrier for the first time, a move that extends Beijing’s ability to project military might.
Tensions between China and Japan, a US ally, have risen dramatically in recent months over islands in the East China Sea which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyus and Tokyo, which administers them, names the Senkakus.
Beijing is locked in similar rows with Vietnam and the Philippines over disputed territory in the South China Sea.
At a key Communist Party congress earlier this month, outgoing President Hu Jintao urged China to push forward fast-paced military modernisation and set the goal of becoming a “maritime power”.