The Chinese military has deployed military personnel and armored medical vehicles to Germany for joint drills, a first for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army as it attempts to forge closer ties with Europe.
The joint exercise — Combined Aid 2019 — is focused on preparing troops with the medical service units of the Chinese and German armed forces to respond to humanitarian crises, such as mass casualty incidents and serious disease outbreaks, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported.
The exercise follows a cooperative military medical training exercise in 2016 in Chongqing, where the PLA and the German Bundeswehr practiced responding to an imaginary earthquake scenario.
"We've seen China increasing its participation in these kinds of activities. It provides a low risk means to demonstrate its commitment to global governance, which may help reduce anxiety about its growing military capabilities," China watcher Matthew Funaiole, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told INSIDER.
“Training exercises also help improve its coordination and logistics, which is helpful for the modernization process,” he added.
The PLA’s paramedical forces have been stepping up their participation in this type of cooperative training. These troops have even been deployed to humanitarian crisis zones, such as the Ebola outbreak in certain parts of Africa.
Yue Gang, a retired PLA colonel, told the South China Morning Post that there may be more to the Chinese military's activities than preparing for crises.
"The PLA in the future will need to go abroad to protect China's overseas interests in countries along the Belt and Road Initiative," he explained. "If there could be some basic mutual trust and understanding with NATO forces, the risk of potential conflict could be greatly mitigated."
The Belt and Road Initiative refers to a massive Chinese-led project designed to position China at the heart of a vast, far-reaching global trade network.
Wany Yiwei, a European studies expert at Renmin University of China, stressed that uncertainty as a result of the Trump administration’s “America First” policy has created new opportunities for China and Europe.
"As the leader of the EU, Germany has said that Europe should take charge of its own security," he told the Hong Kong-based SCMP. "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."
Jorge Benitez, a NATO expert with the Atlantic Council, told Stars and Stripes that "the presence of the Chinese military in Germany for this exercise creates very bad optics for Germany, NATO and the US and is a cheap propaganda victory for China."
Last year, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) conducted its first combined exercise with the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) in waters near China’s new military base in Djibouti. It marked an unprecedented level of cooperation at that time.
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