China joins US-Thailand drill

Updated: 2014-02-12 00:29

By Li Xiaokun and Mo Jingxi (China Daily)

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Soldiers to provide engineering and medical support during Cobra Gold

China has sent 17 soldiers to make its debut in Asia’s biggest military exercise, co-hosted by the United States and Thailand, in a move experts said reflects Beijing’s growing military capability and impact on the region.

They also said the arrangement demonstrates Beijing’s warming military ties with Washington.

The Ministry of National Defense confirmed that Beijing sent troops to attend the annual multilateral exercise, Cobra Gold, which began in Thailand on Tuesday.

“China’s attendance is a ground-breaking move,” said Du Wenlong, a senior researcher at the PLA’s Academy of Military Science.

“China’s role in the massive drill has changed. That means the growth of its military capability, and its regional military impact especially, cannot be ignored.”

The exercise, which will last until Feb 23, will cover areas in Phitsanulok, Khon Kaen, Chon Buri, Rayong and Chanthaburi provinces, The Bangkok Post reported on Thursday.

The primary participants are about 9,000 US troops and 4,000 Thai troops.

Other participants include 80 soldiers from Singapore, 120 from Japan, 300 from South Korea, 160 from Indonesia and 120 from Malaysia, the newspaper said.

Several other countries including Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam have sent observers. China was an observer last year.

The Chinese soldiers, mainly from the Guangzhou Military Area Command, will participate in the humanitarian part of the exercise, according to the defense ministry.

The Chinese squad will take part in operations at the command and coordination center, as well as providing engineering and medical assistance and joining discussions and exchanges on military medical sciences.

Du said Chinese troops will gradually take on more important roles in the Cobra Gold exercise, “from the logistics part to the major field drill”.

Li Haidong, a researcher in US studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said China’s participation in the drill shows that the Chinese military has become more open and confident and will contribute to regional peace and stability.

“Also, as the exercise is led by the US and its ally Thailand, Beijing’s participation quenches the suspicion that the drill is targeted at China,” he said.

The exercise series has remained a bilaterally controlled exercise between Thailand and the US since it was first held in 1982.

“Beijing has sent the message through this move that it is willing to further communicate in military affairs with the US and its allies,” Li added.

However, Li noted that the Chinese squad is restricted to conducting humanitarian aid work.

“Great potential still remains to be tapped in terms of building up mutual military trust between China and the US.”

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