The People’s Liberation Army is staging its first joint medical exercise with a major Nato power in Europe, as China steps up efforts to strengthen ties with European countries.
About 100 PLA medics are taking part in the two-week “Combined Aid 2019” exercise at a base in Feldkirchen, southern Germany, alongside 120 medics and 120 support personnel from the German military, the Bundeswehr, China’s defence ministry said on its Weibo account.
In addition to the medics, the PLA also sent a full array of field equipment including armoured ambulances to Germany for the drill, which began on Wednesday last week and finishes on July 17. It is the first time the PLA has shipped armoured vehicles to Europe.
The joint exercise is focused on humanitarian rescue efforts and comes as China’s military plays an increasingly active role in international efforts like peacekeeping missions. It also coincides with more frequent exchanges and cooperation between China and European countries on issues ranging from global trade to climate change.
According to China’s defence ministry, the exercise includes a scenario of an outbreak of cholera in a refugee camp, and a bomb strike on a United Nations vehicle resulting in serious casualties, with the Chinese and German soldiers working together to handle the situations.
Retired PLA colonel Yue Gang said that while the exercise may not have much significance in terms of combat ability, it was important for the international efforts of China’s military.
“Given that Nato has been suspicious and wary of China’s military development, and this is a member of Nato, this breakthrough underscores the considerable trust-building taking place between Germany and China, and it may even set an example for others to follow,” Yue said.
“The PLA in the future will need to go abroad to protect China’s overseas interests in countries along the Belt and Road Initiative, and if there could be some basic mutual trust and understanding with Nato forces, the risk of potential conflict could be greatly mitigated,” he said, referring to Beijing’s vast scheme to build ports, roads and railways across Asian, African and European countries.
The Bundeswehr said the joint exercise was “unique in the military cooperation of both states and creates the preconditions for being able to interact in medical terms in a combined UN scenario”.
Chinese defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said earlier that the military relationship between China and Germany had been going well, with solid progress in areas such as joint exercises.
Wang Yiwei, an expert in European studies at Renmin University of China, said he was not surprised Germany had taken the lead among members of Nato – the transatlantic security alliance – to hold a joint drill with China, noting that Berlin had been wary of Washington’s “America first” policy.
“As the leader of the EU, Germany has said that Europe should take charge of its own security,” Wang said. “It is also a brand new world security situation now, as both China and Europe would want to hedge their risks in dealing with the US.”
He added that Germany and China had been cooperating effectively in recent years, especially in economic areas.
The two militaries’ medical services held their first joint exercise in October 2016, when they carried out simulated earthquake rescue operations in Chongqing, in southwest China.
Last year, the Chinese navy also conducted a joint anti-piracy drill with a European Union naval flotilla in the Gulf of Aden, where the PLA established its first overseas military base in Djibouti.