So a Bunch of Chinese, American and Australian Soldiers March Into the Jungle …

November 8, 2014 0

Recent three-way war game is no joke Australian, American and Chinese troops spent two weeks in October in Australia’s remote Northern Territory camping, hunting and...

Recent three-way war game is no joke

Australian, American and Chinese troops spent two weeks in October in Australia’s remote Northern Territory camping, hunting and fishing together in the unforgiving jungle.

Exercise Kowari 2014, the first-ever ground war game involving the three countries, reflects strengthening ties between very different—and potentially rival—armies.

The training was supposed to benefit everyone. Still, some commenters think it’s a bad joke.

They’re wrong.

Hosted by the Australian government, Kowari brought together 10 soldiers from each country. The 30 soldiers split into two groups and spent five days in the field—“three days in an inland zone and two days in an unfamiliar coastal zone,” according to the Australian army.

“They will be focusing on the six priorities of survival—water, shelter, warmth, food, rescue and health,” Australian warrant officer David Sudholz said before the war game kicked off.

The brass was enthusiastic. “This is huge,” U.S. Army major general Charles Flynn said at a summit as the exercise was wrapping up.

Flynn is the commander of the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division, which sent five of its soldiers to the exercise. “They’ll no doubt come back with important insights into the Chinese soldier,” Flynn said.

At top & above—Australian, American and Chinese troops during Kowari 2014. Australian Defense Force photos

“It brings trust and confidence and more strategic engagements,” Australian army major general Steve Smith said. Officials from all three countries expressed interest in more joint exercises in the future.

But not everybody is so thrilled. Comments on the 25th Infantry Division’s Facebook page express a mix of confusion and alarm. “WTF are we doing with the Chinese?” commenter Jeff Matthis asked.

“Training with the communist Chinese is as dumb as it gets,” Steve Oullette commented. “That just gives them the advantage IF we ever have to fight them in the future. DUH.”

The skepticism is understandable. Kowari took place in the shadow of ongoing protests in Hong Kong, which the United States has voiced support for.

But commenter Matt Gallaway sees things differently. “U.S. Army doctrine has never been a secret,” he wrote. Indeed, survival skills are hardly classified.

And it’s not the first time Chinese and American military personnel have cooperated in an exercise. Kowari 2014 comes on the heels of China’s participation in the RIMPAC naval exercise off of Hawaii earlier this year.

In the last decade or so, the U.S. and its allies have tried to maintain some level of engagement with the Chinese military—even when relations between Washington and Beijing are chilly.

At left—U.S. Marine general Peter Pace observes a Chinese attack exercise at Shenyang training base in 2007. At right—a Chinese sailor looks at names at the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor during a tour in 2006. Defense Department photos

In April 2001, an American spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter over the China Seas, killing the Chinese pilot and compelling the U.S. plane to make an emergency landing at a Chinese airstrip.

American officials were able to negotiate the U.S. crew’s release, but the incident strained Sino-American ties.

But in 2007, the Chinese military invited senior American officers on a tour of China. Then-chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace accepted the invitation and became the highest ranking U.S. military officer to visit China since the communist revolution in the 1940s.

Pace toured military installations around the country, saw Chinese warplanes up close, watched a ground combat exercise and met some of Beijing’s officer cadets.

Pace and his Chinese counterpart Gen. Liang Guanglie talked about setting up personnel swaps and boosting cooperation during humanitarian emergencies.

The next seven years saw some setbacks in the two countries’ relations. But over the years, both navies have visited the other’s ports and have even deployed side by side to Somali waters to fight pirates.

The friendly meetings paid off in December 2013, as the American cruiser USS Cowpens tailed the Chinese aircraft carrier Laioning in the Western Pacific. The Chinese maneuvered to block Cowpens and nearly caused a collision.

Liaoning’s captain got on the radio with the Americans and had a “very professional” conversation that prevented further clashes. Not coincidentally, the Chinese skipper had recently visited the United States on a military exchange.

At their best, these exchanges foster understanding between superpowers that just might prevent misunderstandings from escalating into open warfare.

At their absolute worst, they merely let American troops get a rare up-close look at the Chinese military in action.

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