CHENGDU Nov 30 Chinese and American soldiers
finished a week-long disaster rescue exercise on Friday,
furthering military ties between the two countries even as
military tensions rise between China and U.S. military allies in
the Pacific region.
The exercise, which included 20 U.S. soldiers visiting
facilities in three Chinese cities, are meant to bring the two
rivals closer together through non-combat military
collaboration, and to allay fears of countries in the region
worried over China's rising influence.
"Our senior leaders have been pretty clear: they're seeking
a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship between
our two nations," said Maj. Gen. Stephen Lyons, commander of the
U.S. Army's 8th Theater Sustainment Command, based in Hawaii.
"That spirit of cooperation and that level of transparency I
think helps signals throughout the region, and it helps us
understand each other," Lyons said at a People's Liberation Army
barracks on the outskirts of Chengdu in southwest China, where a
massive earthquake devastated nearby regions in 2008, killing
more than 87,000 people.
The general leading the Chinese side acknowledged the two
services' rivalry, but said they share a common duty.
"The Chinese and American militaries do have our
differences, but it is my belief that it is the indispensable
responsibility of the two militaries to join forces in disaster
relief," said Maj. Gen. Tang Fen, director of the PLA's Mass
Work Office, General Political Department.
"Our two sides have a lot of experiences to share with each
other and much to learn from each other."
Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie this week also
promoted military cooperation between Beijing and Washington.
"We should develop the ties between us, between our two
militaries, touch on some of our differences, resolve
conflicting views," he told Reuters. "We should push forward the
development of our two powers, and push forward the development
of a new China-U.S. military relationship."
The U.S. and Chinese military have exchanged occasional
visits on disaster relief since 1998, but those were mostly
information sharing, Lyons said. This was the first exercise
involving planning for joint action, and observation of Chinese
troops training in drills such as practising entering and
rappelling down the sides of buildings and using dog handlers.
Amid all nice talk however, the two sides remain
considerably wary of each other.
"The distrust of the U.S. military within the PLA is very
high. The distrust of the PLA within the U.S. military is
substantial," says Kenneth Lieberthal, a former National
Security Council senior director for Asia in the Clinton
The two sides have often expressed suspicion over each
other's intentions, with Washington viewing China's growing
economic and military clout as an attempt to dominate Asia, and
Beijing seeing U.S. force projection including President Barack
Obama's year-old "rebalancing" of a military focus back to Asia
"Some high-ranking Chinese officials have openly stated that
the United States is China's greatest national security threat,"
wrote Wang Jisi, dean of the School of International Studies at
Peking University, in a paper published earlier this year by
China's Centre for International and Strategic Studies. "This
perception is widely shared in China's defence and security
Chinese officials insist that China's intent is to safeguard
its own sovereignty. But Chinese military actions and weapons
advances this year give some neighbours cause for concern.
China has been increasingly asserting territorial claims
this year over waters and islands in the South and East China
Seas, in direct conflict against Japan, the Philippines,
Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Southeast Asia's top diplomat warned on Friday that
China's plan to board and search ships that illegally enter what
it considers its territory in the disputed South China Sea could
spark naval clashes and hurt the region's economy.
Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the Chinese plan was a
"very serious turn of events".
China launched its first aircraft carrier and two prototypes
of stealth fighter jets this year. Earlier this month it
unveiled a new attack helicopter and pilotless drone aircraft. A
U.S. congressional commission reported that China's submarines
will likely be capable carrying nuclear warheads in two years.
Cooperation such as this week's disaster relief exercise
helps to ease such tensions, Lyons said.
"There's going to be differences between our two nations,"
he said. "But as long as we're committed to solving those
differences in a peaceful, stable kind of way, there's goodness
in having discussions about what we agree upon and what we