China, Australia begin humanitarian assistance, disaster relief exercises

Updated: 2011-11-29 07:56

By Ma Liyao and Li Xiaokun (China Daily)

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CHENGDU / BEIJING - China and Australia started their first joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise on Monday.

The four-day exercise was conducted at a training base outside the city of Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province. The site is about two hours drive from Beichuan, which was damaged by the massive Wenchuan earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people on May 12, 2008.

A total of 33 Chinese soldiers and 16 Australian servicemen took part in the exercise, together with a helicopter and specialized disaster relief vehicles.

The exercise simulated a situation in which China and Australia would answer a request for humanitarian assistance from a South Asian country hit by a major earthquake, which caused a chemical leak.

The Chinese and Australian militaries have previously conducted academic exchanges, as well as a joint naval exercise.

An Australian naval ship joined in a joint search and rescue exercise at sea with the Chinese navy when visiting the Chinese portal cities Qingdao and Zhanjiang last year.

The ongoing exercise was a measure to further enhance cooperation and mutual trust between the two militaries, as well as to deepen their friendship, said Zhang Peimin, chief of staff of the Sichuan Military Region Command.

Both Chinese and Australian personnel stayed in the same base during the four-day exercise.

Preparation of the exercise started at the beginning of the year, and was officially announced in June when Minister of National Defense Liang Guanglie met his Australian counterpart in Singapore on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue.

The joint exercise was a milestone in the two militaries' cooperation in dealing with humanitarian crises caused by frequent natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region, said Air Commodore David Steele, director-general of the Joint Exercises and Evaluation Branch of the Australian Headquarters Joint Operations Command.

Australia provided disaster relief after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake and also sent a rescue team to Pakistan to provide humanitarian assistance when the country was hit by flooding last year.

Chinese rescue teams also provided humanitarian assistance following major regional disasters including the Pakistani floods and the earthquake that hit Japan in March this year.

Liu Yi, a military scholar from the PLA Nanjing Institute of Politics, said China's joint exercises with other countries were usually confined to neighbors or countries enjoying a close relationship with Beijing.

"In that regard, the joint exercise with Australia is a symbol of a more and more open Chinese military," he said.

"In the future we can also have joint exercises in counter-terrorism and any other possible field."