China-US relations

China-US tensions set aside for joint military forum on health

Top Chinese general makes unannounced appearance at Xian for 28-nation conference

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 1:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 10:04pm

The China and US militaries put aside the two countries’ friction over trade to open a jointly organised regional armed forces health forum on Monday in the western city of Xian, best known as the home of the Terracotta Army.

One of China’s top generals, Song Puxuan, head of China’s Central Military Commission’s Logistics Support Department, posed for pictures with Terry Rauch, acting US Deputy Assistant Secretary of defence, at the opening ceremony in one of Xian’s upmarket hotels.

General Song, whose attendance was not previously publicly announced, did not address the conference which is attended by around 600 military officials from 28 countries, including US allies like Japan and Australia.

Military sources say Song is close to China President Xi Jinping and was previously head of the military’s northern command, having risen rapidly up the ranks since Xi took office six years ago.

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

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

Song’s colleague, Chen Jingyuan, head of health at the Logistics Support Department, said the conference had improved relationships between the doctors and militaries of different nations.

“This is the first exchange between the Chinese and US militaries on military health for the Asia-Pacific, and has attracted high attention from Asia-Pacific nations,” Chen said.

Rear Admiral Louis Tripoli, Command Surgeon of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, thanked the People’s Liberation Army for its efforts in arranging the conference.

“We hope that you feel how important it is for us to be here,” Tripoli said.

At the event, which features mostly technical discussions on preventing disease and treating injuries, China’s armed forces will show off new equipment used for medical purposes, such as aircraft and vehicles.

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 is 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.

Still, China’s navy chief Shen Jinlong plans to pay a working visit to the United States later this month, during which he will attend an international naval forum.