Chinese soldiers began an exercise Down Under alongside U.S. and Australian troops Tuesday, according to Australian Defence Minister David Johnston.
Ten members of China’s People’s Liberation Army are participating with U.S. Marines and soldiers and Australian Army forces in Exercise KOWARI 14, Johnston said in a statement.
The exercise, which includes field training and survival tests in remote and coastal areas of Australia’s Northern Territory, builds on engagement that started with the Chinese navy’s first-ever participation in the RIMPAC exercise in Hawaii in July.
However, it also comes at a time when the White House has spoken out in support of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong.
“Exercise KOWARI 14 will provide participants with an understanding of the basic principles, procedures, techniques and equipment that can enhance survival prospects in the harsh Australian environment,” Johnston said. “The exercise demonstrates the willingness of Australia, China and the United States to work together in practical ways.”
Five U.S. soldiers, five Marines and another 100 support personnel are involved in the exercise and working out of Larrakeyah Barracks in Darwin, according to the statement.
U.S. officials said earlier that the Marines would come from a rotational force that deployed to Darwin over the summer. Plans are in place to grow the deployment to a 2,500-strong Air Ground Task Force — a move that some in China see as part of an effort to encircle their homeland, which has grown its own military capabilities rapidly in recent years.
Ross Babbage, a former Australian assistant defense secretary, said the move to base U.S. forces in Darwin is about moving them away from Okinawa and finding places to train in the Pacific — and not about dealing with China.
He added that the training had no bearing on the democracy protests in Hong Kong.
“It’s not riot control or anything like that,” he said.
Kowari 14 commander Brigadier Peter Clay said the training would provide challenging situations in some of the toughest terrain that Australia has to offer.
“The troops will have to depend on each other absolutely in order to succeed,” he said.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Jeff Pool has said the goal of the training is to enhance military-to-military relationships.