Asia Defense

US Army, PLA Conclude Disaster Management Exchange Despite Frictions

The 2018 iteration of the U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange concluded in Nanjing.

US Army, PLA Conclude Disaster Management Exchange Despite Frictions
Credit: U.S. Army Photo

On Saturday, the United States Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ended a military exchange. The 2018 Disaster Management Exchange (DME) between the two sides concluded in Nanjing, in China’s Jiangsu Province. The participating bodies included U.S. Army Pacific and the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command.

At a concluding ceremony, Gen. Robert B. Brown, the commander of the U.S. Army Pacific, and Lt. Gen. Qin Weijiang, the deputy commander of the PLA Eastern Theater Command, delivered remarks, noting that military-to-military exchanges between the two countries were important at a time of mistrust elsewhere in the relationship.

“Military-military is just one aspect of the relations between our two countries, but it is one where we find areas in common and can build trust and reduce miscalculation,” Brown said at the ceremony. The exercise concluded just as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence delivered sharp remarks criticizing Chinese trade and investment practices at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Port Morseby, Papua New Guinea, where Chinese President Xi Jinping was also present.

Frictions between the United States and China have also spilled over into the security domain. In late-September, a Chinese Type 052C destroyer forced a U.S. destroyer to alter course during a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea by maneuvering dangerously. Earlier that month, China canceled scheduled military-to-military dialogues and the second annual Diplomatic and Security Dialogue between the two sides was postponed, though it eventually took place in early November.

The 2018 DME was the latest in what is an annual U.S.-China military exchange. “The DME is a key disaster risk reduction event that USARPAC conducts with the PLA each year; the DME has matured from basic visits and briefings into a substantive exchange that uses table top and practical field exchanges to focus and facilitate disaster risk reduction and interaction between USARPAC and the PLA,” U.S. Army Pacific noted in a statement.

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This year’s exercises involved more than 200 personnel from both sides. A PLA Daily report on this year’s exercises noted that the DME “aims to share the experience of international humanitarian assistance and disaster relief of the two militaries and cultivate the willingness and capability of the two militaries to carry out disaster relief operations.”

The 2017 iteration of the DME took place in the U.S. state of Oregon. That exchange focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in a “national flooding scenario in which both armies would interact as part of a Multinational Coordination Center,” according to the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2018 report on the Chinese military.