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Amid a global pandemic and simmering tension between the U.S. and Beijing, American troops and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army are holding remote training on humanitarian disaster response.
The U.S. troops at Schofield are joining Chinese troops across the Pacific to talk with expert academics and work through how to address a crisis scenario from Tuesday through Thursday.
It’s the 16th iteration of the Disaster Management Exchange, an annual training event that began in 2005 as the two militaries began discussing how they would cooperate in response to a major disaster. The exercise, which has alternated between being held in the U.S. and China, initially began as a meeting between senior officers.
Gary Wiegand from the Hawaii State Civil Defense K-9 Unit discusses search and recovery with members of the People’s Liberation Army during the 2013 Disaster Management Exchange on Oahu.
Gary Wiegand/U.S. Army
The rival militaries held their first practical field exercise in Hawaii in 2013 when Chinese troops and Hawaii National Guardsmen trained at Bellows Air Force Station. Each year the training became larger and more complex as troops searched through simulated rubble and practiced search and rescue techniques, frequently working with civilian agencies as well.
Last year, Chinese troops returned to Hawaii as the PLA trained with the 25th Infantry Division on the Big Island. This year’s small online engagement is considerably scaled back.
“This long-established exchange is executed to support the U.S. efforts to build a constructive, stable, and results-oriented defense relationship with the PLA,” an Army press release said Tuesday.
Both militaries have responded to natural disasters in real life, occasionally coordinating. Chinese peacekeepers and American troops cooperated in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The U.S. and Chinese military also both responded to the 2015 Nepal earthquake.
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Kevin Knodell covers the military and veterans in Hawaii and the greater Pacific for Civil Beat as a corps member for Report For America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms.