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China-US relations

Chinese and US armed forces to team up for Asia-Pacific health meeting despite trade and security turmoil

Military officials from more than two dozen countries to attend joint gathering in the Chinese city of Xian

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 7:10pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 7:10pm

The Chinese and US militaries will jointly host a regional health meeting for armed forces in September, Beijing said on Thursday, despite tension over trade and security issues such as the South China Sea.

China has been keen to highlight its cooperation with the US military, despite a bitter trade war and Chinese suspicion at US support for self-ruled, and Chinese-claimed, Taiwan, and its involvement in the disputed South China Sea.

China has praised the tone of last month’s visit to Beijing by US Defence Secretary James Mattis, saying it achieved positive results and Defence Minister Wei Fenghe would go to Washington this year.

Defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang told a monthly briefing the two nation’s militaries would jointly hold the Asia-Pacific Military Health Exchange in the Chinese city of Xian from September 17 to 21.

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About 600 people would take part, with military officials from 28 countries, including Singapore and Thailand, as well as officials of the United Nations, the Red Cross and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations coming, he added.

At the event, China’s armed forces would show off new equipment used for medical purposes, such as aircraft and vehicles, he said.

China and the United States also carry out joint disaster relief drills, one of which was held in the US state of Oregon last November.

It has not been all plain sailing for the ties between the two militaries.

China was angered in May when the United States withdrew an invitation to a major US-hosted naval drill, saying that closing the door does not promote mutual trust and cooperation.

The Rim of the Pacific exercise, known as RIMPAC and previously attended by China, is billed as the world’s largest international maritime exercise and held every two years in Hawaii in June and July.

The Pentagon said the withdrawal of the invitation was in response to what it sees as Beijing’s militarisation of islands in the South China Sea.

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Wei had also accepted an invitation to visit India, Ren said on Thursday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed in April to open a new chapter in ties, just months after a dispute over a stretch of their high-altitude Himalayan border rekindled fears of war.

Hundreds of troops from both sides were deployed in 2017 on the Doklam plateau, near the borders of India, its ally Bhutan, and China after India objected to Chinese construction of a road in the Himalayan area in their most serious stand-off in years.

There is still deep mistrust between the neighbours over their festering border dispute, which triggered a brief war in 1962.

Ren added that Major General Liu Xiaowu, deputy commander of China’s western military region, had also visited India from July 2-6, for meetings with his Indian counterparts.

During his trip, both countries reached consensus about improving front-line risk management, the need to maintain peace and stability along the border and strengthening of exchanges between their two border forces, Ren said.