HONOLULU — More than 20 Hawaii soldiers are in China for a disaster management exercise with the People's Liberation Army.
The Fort Shafter-based soldiers are in Beijing, Kunming and Chengdu for training focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The exercise began Monday and ends Sunday.
The scenario includes a fictional earthquake in a third country that results in U.S.-Chinese military cooperation to provide aid, the Army said.
"One unfortunate truth is that there will always be natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region," said Maj. Gen. Stephen Lyons, commander of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command and head of the U.S. Army Pacific delegation. "All nations of this region are subject to the powerful forces of nature, whether it is earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, typhoons, wildfires or volcanic eruptions."
Land forces from U.S. Army Pacific and China "are uniquely qualified to respond to these natural disasters and can anticipate being called upon to help civilian relief agencies both domestically and regionally in those times of crisis," Lyons said.
Since 2005, U.S. and Chinese army soldiers have conducted the military-to-military exchanges in the United States or China, an official said.
U.S. Army Pacific, headquartered at Fort Shafter, said it intends to host the People's Liberation Army in the U.S., possibly in Hawaii, for the next disaster management exercise.
The U.S. has placed an emphasis on improving military relations with China, but some direct military-to-military contact is prohibited under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000, with exceptions for search and rescue and humanitarian assistance.
In 2006 a waiver of the restrictions allowed a Chinese military team to observe a portion of the Valiant Shield exercises off Guam.
In September a Chinese Maritime Safety Administration ship made a historic first visit to Honolulu. The Coast Guard and the Chinese ship, the Haixun 31, conducted a joint search and rescue exercise.
Also in September, the U.S. military invited China to participate in the next Rim of the Pacific naval exercise off Hawaii in 2014.