For the first time, Chinese and American troops are taking part in a joint military exercise on Australian soil, ushering in a new era of trilateral military cooperation. After over a year of negotiations, Australian defense officials convinced both nations to send personnel to Australia’s Northern Territory to undertake exercises in outdoor survival skills.
‘Exercise Kowari’ ran from October 7th to 25th, and involved the participation of five soldiers from the US Marine Corps, 10 from the People’s Liberation Army, and 10 from the Australian Defense Force. Named after a native bush marsupial known for its ability to survive in harsh conditions, Exercise Kowari involved survival training led by Indigenous Australians, who taught the soldiers how to find food, water and shelter in the outback.
The program included trust-building exercises, such as abseiling down buildings in Darwin, in addition to social and cultural events, including a trip to a jumping crocodile farm.
While it is unlikely that soldiers from the Marines, PLA and ADF will ever find themselves stranded in the Australian outback, the exercise is an important milestone in regional defense cooperation. The exercises also serve as a rebuttal to the claims that Australia’s closer strategic relationship with the US has to come at the expense of closeness with China. In addition to being the first such exercise on Australian soil, it is also the first trilateral exercise involving the three nations, and is the latest in a series of military exercises displaying cooperation between China and the US.
Earlier in the year both nations took part in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), the world’s largest international maritime exercise, in which 22 nations undertake programs to strengthen their capabilities, including military medicine, humanitarian assistance, and counter-piracy measures. It was the first time that China had been a participant since RIMPAC began in 1971, contributing the sophisticated CNS 171 Haikou guided missile destroyer to the fleet of 49 surface ships taking part in the exercises.
Jonathan Gordon recently graduated from the University of Sydney and is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C.