Chinese troops are taking part in disaster relief exercises in Hawaii today, in what China’s state media billed as the first time the country’s soldiers have drilled on U.S. territory.
People’s Liberation Army soldiers are taking part in humanitarian assistance drills in Hawaii until Thursday with thier U.S. counterparts, simulating relief operations after an earthquake hits a third country, according to a report on the website of the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper.
Col. Bill Florig, chief of civil military operations for U.S. Army Pacific, said in announcing the exercises last month that the event is the largest between the United States and China armies.
“What we are trying to emphasize in this exchange is our inherent flexibility,” Florig said. “They (China) are looking to see that flexibility that we have demonstrated so often in the past in disaster response.”
Officials say the first two days of the exchange will be academic, while the field work will include practice with field equipment.
The United States will have 50 people participate, including soldiers and civilians from U.S. Army Pacific, the Hawaii Army National Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. China is expected to bring 60 soldiers and observers.
The exchange is an annual exercise that is part of a security cooperation agreement established in 1998.
Last year in China, military officials discussed how they would respond to an earthquake.
This year’s drills, which follow a series of naval exercises off Hawaii in September, reflect deepened military ties between the U.S. and China even as they square off over allegations of Chinese military hacking and China’s territorial disputes with U.S. allies Japan and the Philippines.
Chinese ships are set to take part next year in the RIMPAC war games off the Hawaiian coast, multinational exercises that bring together militaries from across the Pacific Rim. While China has observed RIMPAC before, 2014 will mark the first time it’s ever joined the drills.
Even as cooperation intensifies, competition between the two militaries is also on the rise. China’s defense budget has more than doubled since 2006 and last year it commissioned its first aircraft carrier.
Still, the U.S. defense budget, the world’s largest, is five times the size of China’s announced military spending.
Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, told reporters Nov. 5 that the Hawaii drills will help foster trust.
“These types of exercises give us a good place to start and to kind of get into the rhythm of understanding and trusting each other,” Locklear said. “I think it’ll be a great exercise.”
Bloomberg News and the Associated Press contributed to this story.