China has joined Asia's largest multinational military exercises for the first time in what analysts said was a breakthrough for the PLA.
Seventeen soldiers, mainly from the Guangzhou Military Command, have been sent to the annual Cobra Gold drills led by the United States and Thailand, which started yesterday in the Southeast Asian nation.
China's involvement suggested Beijing and Washington want to collaborate more closely on security issues in the Asia-Pacific region, according to retired People's Liberation Army general Xu Guangyu .
"China was invited by the US because Washington hopes Beijing will contribute to the long-term stability of the region, especially in anti-terrorist operations, rescue operations, anti-smuggling, anti-piracy and other areas," Xu said.
The role of the Chinese troops is limited to humanitarian relief drills, including providing engineering support and medical aid.
But Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said the PLA's involvement in the multinational military drills was a breakthrough for the army, even if its initial role will be limited. "It's a good beginning as at least the PLA has finally entered the gate and joined the game," he said.
"The drill will provide valuable experience of modern war to the PLA as it has not taken part in any battle for decades."
Cobra Gold involves military exercises on land, air and sea and live-fire drills. The exercises start in the northern province of Phitsanulok and will last until February 21.
The Cobra Gold drills started in 1982 and have developed into the largest multinational military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region. China has been an observer since 2002 but has never been invited to take part before.
"China's participation in the drill is a positive sign as it could reduce mistrust regarding the role of American soldiers in this region," Lieutenant General Tharnchaiyant Srisuwan, director of the exercises, told the Bangkok Post newspaper.
"It will also boost military relations between China and Asean."
The Chinese troops join 9,000 American and 4,000 Thai soldiers. Small numbers of military personnel from Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia are also taking part.