U.S. and China to Hold Joint Drills Despite Trade War and Tensions

The United States and China were set to hold joint drills together in spite of their ongoing trade war and geopolitical tensions in the Asia-Pacific.

The Chinese military's official website announced Tuesday that "the People's Liberation Army (PLA)'s Eastern Theater Command and the US Army Pacific (USARPAC) will hold a joint humanitarian rescue and disaster relief exercise in Hawaii from November 14 to 24." The annual training, which was held around this same time last year, was established by "consensus reached by the Chinese and US militaries," the Chinese side wrote.

"Over 200 officers and soldiers from both sides will take part in the drill, which aims at sharing experience in and upgrading capabilities of humanitarian rescue and disaster relief of the two militaries," the release said.

Little information was released about the upcoming exchange. However, previous installments have involved joint activities on both U.S. and Chinese soil, giving the two competitors a rare opportunity for first-hand cooperation.

us china army disaster management exchange
Army Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Fargo, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, command surgeon, shows U.S. Army medical equipment to Chinese People's Liberation Army Soldiers during the 2018 Disaster Management Exchange at Jurong Military Installation, China, November 14, 2018. The U.S. noted at the time that "the DME has matured from basic visits and briefings into a substantive exchange that uses tabletop and practical field exchanges to focus and facilitate disaster risk reduction and interaction between the USARPAC and the PLA." Specialist Geordan Tyquiengco/8th Theater Sustainment Command/U.S. Army

The U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange program began in 2005 and has persisted despite deteriorating relations between the world's top two economies, whose rival geopolitical ambitions have left them at odds. Washington and Beijing have often accused one another of pursuing destabilizing activities unhelpful to global order.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News affiliate WTAT-TV as recently as Monday that during his recent trip to German, officials asked if President Donald Trump's administration could help "push back against an ever-threatening China," among other things. The executive summary of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act also defines China, along with Russia, as "strategic competitors" and the 2018 National Defense Strategy identified "the reemergence of great power competition" with both as among "the most difficult challenges" the U.S. faces.

China's National Defense in the New Era white paper released by Beijing in July also warned of a potential threat posted by growing U.S. military power and its expanding projection across sensitive areas such as the South China Sea, much of which was claimed by China. The document, however, called for continued coordination with the Pentagon.

"China actively and properly handles its military relationship with the US in accordance with the principles of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation," the document said. "It strives to make the military-to-military relationship a stabilizer for the relations between the two countries and hence contribute to the China-US relationship based on coordination, cooperation and stability."

In addition to tense encounters across the Asia-Pacific, however, Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have struggled to overcome their differences on trade with the former initiating a series of tit-for-tat tariffs in May of last year. The resulting economic dispute has cost both countries billions of dollars with no immediate signs of resolution amid successive rounds of talks.

uss ronald reagan boxer south china seea
Ships from Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group sail in formation while conducting security and stability operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in the South China Sea. Much of the massive stretch of water is claimed by China, which regularly scrambles ships and jets to intercept the U.S. military across the disputed maritime territory. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erwin Jacob V. Miciano/U.S. Navy

China has also accused the U.S. of interfering in the country's internal affairs, both by continuing to offering military assistance to Taiwan—a self-ruling island state with dwindling international partners challenging Beijing's claims to it—and political support to increasingly violent protests in Hong Kong. The Chinese city was afforded a semi-autonomous status after the end of a U.K. colonial rule in 1997, but demonstrations backed by Washington officials and lawmakers have called for more distance from Beijing after a controversial extradition bill was introduced earlier this year.

That proposed law has since been withdrawn, however, and a recent attack on police prompted State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus on Monday to "condemn violence on all sides, extend our sympathies to victims of violence regardless of their political inclinations, and call for all parties— police and protestors— to exercise restraint.‎" This statement, along with a similar one attributed to a senior Trump administration official, was viewed by some observers as a shift in what has otherwise been largely unconditional backing for the opposition. But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang called on the U.S. and the U.K. to do more.

"I must stress once again that ending violence and restoring order is the paramount task, the broadest consensus and the strongest appeal in Hong Kong at this point," Geng said at a news conference in Beijing.

"The central government firmly supports the Hong Kong SAR [Special Autonomous Region] government in governing Hong Kong in accordance with law and the Hong Kong police in strictly enforcing law, maintaining social order and protecting citizens," he added. "We urge the U.S. and the U.K. to earnestly respect China's sovereignty, exercise prudence on Hong Kong-related issues and stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs in any means."