KUNMING, China — Chinese and U.S. troops staged joint drills Friday in an effort to better coordinate a response to humanitarian disasters and build confidence between their militaries that remain deeply wary of each other.
Held since 2005, the U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange is part of efforts to build trust and coordination at a time when the two governments are frequently at odds over disputes in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
The weeklong drills included academic exchanges, a command post exercise and on Friday, a live troop exercise in simulated disaster conditions. It included sniffer dogs to find victims amid debris, a water rescue and building a pontoon bridge and refugee shelter.
"It has been a very successful exchange of ideas between our two militaries and it will definitely benefit us in organization in the future," said U.S. Army Capt. Jeremy Reynolds.
Deng Yuguang of the Chinese army said the drill offered new perspectives for Chinese troops who have shown greater capacity in dealing with disasters within China, but lack the overseas experience of their U.S. counterparts.
"We have similar exercises by ourselves, but this joint drill is very impressive because the drill helps a lot in improving our disaster rescue and relief capability," Deng said.
Along with the Kunming drills, the Chinese and U.S. militaries have joined in naval exercises off the coast of Hawaii and other limited multinational drills mainly aimed at dealing with humanitarian disasters. They've also tried to improve mutual trust through agreements on dealing with unexpected encounters at sea.
Despite those, China deeply resents the presence of the American Navy in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims virtually in its entirety, while the U.S. has been moving to strengthen alliances with friends and partners throughout Asia.