Soldiers from China and the United States wrapped up a week of joint disaster relief drills on Saturday, in a display of cooperation against a backdrop of worsening ties between the two countries over trade, the disputed South China Sea and self-ruled Taiwan.
Relations between the world's two largest economies have plumbed new depths under U.S. President Donald Trump, who is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Argentina starting late this month.
The exercise, held in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, comes a week after Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and top diplomat Yang Jiechi visited Washington, where U.S. officials urged China to halt militarisation of the South China Sea.
But there was no sign of those strains as Chinese and U.S. soldiers simulated plucking people from earthquake-destroyed buildings and treating survivors' injuries at a People's Liberation Army (PLA) base on the outskirts of Nanjing.
Troops practiced search and rescue in a small mock-up of a devastated urban area post-earthquake, using sniffer dogs and other gear to search for people buried in the fake rubble.
"Only through more contacts, more exchanges and cooperation in areas of common interest can we effectively increase mutual trust and effectively reduce misjudgments," Qin Weijiang, deputy commander of the PLA's eastern theatre command, told reporters.
"So I think bilateral exchanges can start from humanitarian and disaster relief exchanges and expand to other areas of common interest."
Robert Brown, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Pacific, said the exchange was "extremely important".
"Just as our top leaders work towards building a strong working relationship and understanding, we through confidence-building measures like this DME must also at our level build a strong understanding of each other," he added, referring to Disaster Management Exchange.
This is the 14th time the joint exchange has been held, which last year took place in the United States.
China's defence ministry has said it hopes the military relationship can become a "stabiliser" for overall ties with the United States.
All the same, Washington and Beijing swapped barbs over trade, investment and regional security at an Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit on Saturday in Papua New Guinea.
Regular drills and exchanges are helpful to bilateral relations, particularly at a time of increased friction, but they are not going to fundamentally change the direction that ties are headed, said Michael Chase, a specialist in China and Asia-Pacific security at the RAND Corp.
"These exchanges remain important in that respect even if they aren't going to solve broader problems in the relationship."
Pence says South China Sea doesn't belong to any one nation
The South China Sea does not belong to any one nation and the United States will continue to sail and fly wherever international law allows, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Friday, in a challenge to China which claims the waterway.The United States has conducted a series of "freedom of navigation" exercises in the contested South China Sea, angering China, which says the patrols threaten its sovereignty."The South China Sea doesn't belong to any one nation, and you can be sure: The United States will continue to sail and fly wherever international law allows and our national interests demand," Pence said.China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, all have claims in the South China Sea, through which some $3 trillion of shipborne trade passes each year.Trump's summit no-show draws Asian nations closer togetherPence on Thursday told leaders of Southeast Asian nations there was no place for "empire and aggression" in the Indo-Pacific region, a comment that could be interpreted as a reference to China's rise.Speaking to a regional summit, Pence directly criticised China's action in the South China Sea, according to a transcript of his remarks."Let me be clear: China's militarisation and territorial expansion in the South China Sea is illegal and dangerous. It threatens the sovereignty of many nations and endangers the prosperity of the world," he said.In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said no country, including the United States, had ever provided any evidence of problems with freedom of navigation or overflight in the South China Sea."May I trouble you to remind Mr Pence, that the United States has yet to ratify the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS)," Hua told a daily news briefing."If the United States can at an early date ratify and abide by UNCLOS, then I think this will benefit even more the protection of peace and stability in the South China Sea area."The 1982 convention defines how coastal states are allowed to establish sovereignty over territorial seas and exclusive economic zones. China has signed and ratified it.Pence's comments follow a major speech in October in which he flagged a tougher U.S. approach towards China, accusing it of "malign" efforts to undermine U.S. President Donald Trump and reckless military actions in the South China Sea.
Trump's summit no-show draws Asian nations closer together
U.S. President Donald Trump didn't make it to this week's summit of Asian nations in Singapore, but his influence was still keenly felt among the leaders who gathered in the city.One prime minister warned that the trade war between Washington and Beijing could trigger a "domino effect" of protectionist steps by other countries. Another fretted that the international order could splinter into rival blocs."The most important and talked-about ... leader, President Trump, is the only one that did not turn up," said Malcolm Cook, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.And yet, in Trump's absence, countries from South to East Asia pressed on with forging multilateral ties on trade and investment among themselves, including with China.China's representative at the meetings, Premier Li Keqiang, egged them on."Now the world is facing rising protectionism. It is all the more important for us to come together and respond to the complex world situation to uphold multilateralism and free trade," Li said on Thursday.The U.S. president's lack of engagement with Asian nations came just days after a trip to France for World War One commemorations at which he appeared isolated from NATO allies.Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Trump was inadvertently bringing Asian nations together."Not necessarily by design, but because he is not being a consistent and reassuring presence, and because his policies have tended to fracture the natural order that Asia is dependent upon," he said. "Asians are trying to figure out what else they can do without relying on America too much."The White House did not respond to a request for comment.TWO POWERS: TWO STRATEGIESAs well as the summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asian nations in Singapore, Trump will also skip the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Papua New Guinea at the end of the week.At APEC on Friday, President Xi Jinping will showcase China's Belt and Road initiative to Pacific leaders, several of whom are expected to sign up to the infrastructure investment drive.Xi's multi-billion-dollar plan, which aims to bolster a sprawling network of land and sea links with Asian neighbours and far beyond, is viewed with suspicion in Western capitals as an attempt to assert Chinese influence.Trump attended both the ASEAN and APEC meetings in 2017, and his decision to stay away this year has raised questions about Washington's commitment to a regional strategy to counter China.Vice President Mike Pence, who represented Trump in Singapore, told the meeting that United States' commitment to the Indo-Pacific is "steadfast and enduring."Asia presents the Trump administration with some of its most pressing foreign policy challenges, including its strategic rivalry with China and efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme.Washington has touted what it calls an "Indo-Pacific" strategy aimed at greater regional cooperation, notably with India, Australia and Japan, to counter China's influence, including in the disputed South China Sea, where it conducts naval patrols to challenge what it sees as Beijing's excessive territorial claims.Pence said on Thursday - without naming China - that there was no place for "empire and aggression" in the Indo-Pacific.His comments follow a major speech in October in which he flagged a tougher approach by Washington toward Beijing, accusing China of "malign" efforts to undermine Trump and reckless military actions in the South China Sea.A U.S. State Department spokesman said: "We welcome contributions by China to regional development, so long as it adheres to the highest standards the people of the region demand. We are concerned by China's use of coercion, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed China's strategic agenda."Shortly before Pence spoke in Singapore, the U.S. Navy announced that two of its aircraft carriers with around 150 fighter jets were conducting warfare drills in the Philippine Sea, a show of force in waters south of China and within striking distance of North Korea.TAKING SIDESPence told reporters in Singapore that he had been struck in conversations with world leaders by "the connection that President Trump has made" with them through his vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.However, analysts say that countries across Asia are waiting for the United States to put substance behind its Indo-Pacific rhetoric, and Trump's absence from the summits only served to heighten concerns among Southeast Asian states that Washington no longer has their back.Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday it was "very desirable" for ASEAN not to have to take sides with world powers, but there may come a time when it would "have to choose one or the other."Some Southeast Asian nations may be quietly impressed by the United States' robust approach to Beijing on trade, intellectual property issues and the South China Sea, but others have made it clear they already see China's rise as inevitable.Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, asked on Thursday about the U.S. Navy drills, noted that China already occupies contested South China Sea islands and added: "Why do you have to create frictions ... that will prompt a response from China?."But Cook said Southeast Asian states' hedging and unwillingness to publicly criticise Chinese aggression have contributed to Washington's posture shift in Asia."This change is certainly not all because of Trump," he said. "The choices of Southeast Asian states in the end bear some responsibility."
Turkish businessman's kindness wins hearts in China
A Turkish businessman's exemplary kindness was caught on camera during a social experiment in China.Murat Telek, 47, invited a homeless child to eat at his table and stopped the waiter from kicking him out of the restaurant. He is seen in the video sharing a pizza with the boy.Telek has been living in Shanghai for 17 years selling radiators produced by a Turkish company."The manager of the restaurant came and asked the child to stand up while he was sitting with me. I felt uncomfortable because this would be like humiliating him," Telek told Anadolu Agency."Chinese are very pleased that a foreigner gave this reaction. People I meet called me 'Turkish brother' and 'Turkish uncle'," he said.The footage was released four years ago but became viral on the internet recently.
China commerce ministry says US, China have resumed high-level trade talks
China and the United States have resumed high-level talks on trade, the Chinese commerce ministry's spokesman Gao Feng said at a weekly press briefing in Beijing on Thursday, without giving details.Earlier this month, after a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, U.S. President Donald Trump said he thought the Washington would make a deal with Beijing on trade but stood ready to levy more tariffs on Chinese goods if no progress is made.The two countries resumed talks after the call, ending a three-month hiatus that saw relations deteriorate as the United States accused China of interfering in domestic politics and seeking to undermine Trump. China sends written response to US trade reform demandsTrudeau says Canada to work with China on eventual free trade deal
China sends written response to US trade reform demands
China has delivered a written response to U.S. demands for wide-ranging trade reforms, three U.S. government sources said on Wednesday, a move that could trigger negotiations to bring an end to a withering trade war between the world's top economies.U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping when the Group of 20 industrialized nations gathers in Argentina later this month.China allows online sales of group tours to S.KoreaTrump has imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese imports to force concessions from Beijing on the list of demands that would change the terms of trade between the world's two largest economies. China has responded with import tariffs on U.S. goods.Trump has repeatedly railed against Beijing over intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies, Chinese entry barriers to American businesses and the U.S. trade deficit with China.The United States has said it would not start negotiations on trade until it saw a concrete response from China to its demands.A U.S. team led by Treasury Under Secretary David Malpass discussed trade issues with a Chinese team via videoconference on Tuesday, a U.S. Treasury spokesperson said on Wednesday. Prolonging negotiations could put China-backed trade deal at risk: Singapore PM