BRIDG­ING THE SEAS

Dur­ing his state visit to the US in Septem­ber, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping said there should be more mil­i­tary ex­changes be­tween the two coun­tries. De­spite ris­ing ten­sions be­tween China and the US over the South China Sea, both sides are con­tin­u­ing to do what Xi

China Daily (Canada) - - IN DEPTH -

At 8 am on Nov 3, US Navy Cap­tain Don­ald Sze stood wait­ing on the Broad­way Pier at the Port of San Diego in Cal­i­for­nia. On that day, 2,090.27 miles away on the US East Coast at the May­port Naval Sta­tion in Jack­sonville, Florida, US Navy Rear Ad­mi­ral Mary Jackson also was wait­ing.

For the Beijing-born Sze, the wait was to wel­come the Chi­nese hos­pi­tal ship Peace Ark, which was ar­riv­ing for a five-day visit. And for Jackson it was to greet three ships of the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) Navy that would make history when they docked: the first Chi­nese Navy ves­sels to pay a call on a US East Coast port. The ships were on an around-the-world tour af­ter com­plet­ing an anti-piracy mis­sion in the Gulf of Aden.

The ships’ vis­its were in keep­ing with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s push for more China-US mil­i­tary col­lab­o­ra­tion. At his meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Sept 25 in Wash­ing­ton dur­ing his US state visit, Xi said that mil­i­taryto-mil­i­tary ties are a vi­tal com­po­nent of China-US re­la­tions, and the two sides should main­tain the mo­men­tum for high-level mil­i­tary ex­changes.

He called on the two mil­i­taries to make bet­ter use of re­search in­sti­tu­tions and acad­e­mies and con­duct more joint drills and train­ing ex­er­cises. Xi noted that China, at the in­vi­ta­tion of the US, will join the 2016 Rim of the Pa­cific mul­ti­lat­eral naval drills and send per­son­nel to Seat­tle to par­tic­i­pate in hu­man­i­tar­ian aid and dis­as­ter re­lief train­ing.

Ex­changes in­creased

Since Xi’s visit, both coun­tries have stepped up ef­forts for more mil­i­tary ex­changes de­spite ten­sions ris­ing over the South China Sea.

On Oct 12, the train­ing ship ZhengHe of the PLA Navy ar­rived in Peal Har­bor, Hawaii, for a four­day train­ing ex­change and good­will visit. Since 1987, Zheng He, China’s first naval train­ing ves­sel, has com­pleted a global voy­age and has vis­ited 28 coun­tries and re­gions. The ship’s 1989 visit to Pearl Har­bor was the first by a PLA ves­sel to a US port since 1949.

Com­man­der Yan Zhen­ming of Zheng He said China’s Navy per­son­nel need to broaden their knowl­edge and en­hance their pro­fes­sion­al­ism through reg­u­lar ex­change pro­grams with their US coun­ter­parts.

For US Navy pub­lic af­fairs of­fi­cer Krystyna Nowakowski who at­tended the Hawaii Port re­cep­tion, it was her sec­ond time aboard the ZhengHe.

De­lighted to see her Chi­nese cul­ture course teacher from the Chi­nese navy again, she re­called her first trip on ZhengHe in 2013 when the ves­sel crossed the At­lantic Ocean. “I was a third-year stu­dent at the US Naval Acad­emy in An­napo­lis. I had two Chi­nese cul­ture cour­ses on­board then and had a great time with (Chi­nese sailors and of­fi­cers),” Nowakowski said.

Dur­ing its Hawaii stay, the Zheng He crew vis­ited the head­quar­ters of the US Navy’s Pa­cific Fleet and the USS Chosin, a Ti­con­deroga-class guided-mis­sile cruiser named in honor of the Bat­tle of Chosin in the Korean War. The crew gained first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence watch­ing how US Navy sailors con­ducted var­i­ous ex­er­cises, in­clud­ing search-and-res­cue.

On Oct 27, US- China ten­sions over the South China Sea made global head­lines when the US guided-mis­sile de­stroyer, the USS Lassen, went close to one of Chi­nese is­lands. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment said it had tracked and warned the ship, and called in the US am­bas­sador to protest.

De­spite the strong re­buke from China and the US prom­ise to con­tinue such sail­ings, both coun­tries have con­tin­ued to stress mil­i­taryto-mil­i­tary ex­changes and joint ex­er­cises.

On Nov 3, when the PLA hos­pi­tal ship was ar­riv­ing in San Diego and the three PLA ships were dock­ing in Jack­sonville, in Beijing and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, US and Chi­nese of­fi­cials tan­gled face-to­face over the South China Sea, but again showed sup­port for mil­i­tary ex­changes.

In Beijing, Ad­mi­ral Harry Har­ris, the com­man­der of the United States Pa­cific Com­mand, met Fan Chang­long, vice-chair­man of the Cen­tral Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sion. Har­ris, the Navy’s high­est-rank­ing Asian Amer­i­can ever, said dur­ing his visit to China that the US would con­tinue to con­duct nav­i­ga­tion oper­a­tions in the South China Sea. Fan told Har­ris to “stop wrong­do­ings and dan­ger­ous moves” in the South China Sea and to avoid “mis­un­der­stand­ing, mis­judg­ment and un­pre­dictable in­ci­dents.”

De­spite the ex­changes, Har­ris told Fan that he hoped to “strengthen the co­op­er­a­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion” be­tween the two na­tions’ mil­i­taries and push for a “con­tin­u­ous de­vel­op­ment” of mil­i­tary re­la­tions.

In Kuala Lumpur, China’s Min­is­ter of Na­tional De­fense, Chang Wan­quan, and his US coun­ter­part, De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter, met on the side­lines of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions De­fense Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing-Plus (ADMM­Plus). While Carter con­tin­ued to voice his con­cern over China’s ac­tiv­i­ties in the South China Sea and cy­berspace, he also ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion to visit China next spring, and ex­pressed sup­port for US-China mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary re­la­tions, say­ing they can con­trib­ute to re­gional un­der­stand­ing.

Back at the wharf in San Diego on Nov 3, a march­ing band played the Chi­nese and Amer­i­can na­tional an­thems. Peace Ark task group com­man­der Se­nior Cap­tain Guan Bailin, his crew and Chi­nese of­fi­cials ex­changed greet­ings with their US coun­ter­parts.

Led by com­mand­ing of­fi­cer Cap­tain Jose Acosta of the Naval Med­i­cal Cen­ter-San Diego, the US del­e­ga­tion in­cluded Cap­tain Me­lanie Mer­rick of the US hos­pi­tal ship the USNS Mercy, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from US mil­i­tary health­care providers and mem­bers of the Chi­nese-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.

“We are ex­cited

to

visit

the beau­ti­ful city of San Diego,” said Guan at a re­cep­tion on the ship’s deck. “This is the fourth stop on the Peace Ark’s seven-coun­try voy­age. We have al­ready vis­ited Malaysia, Aus­tralia and French Poly­ne­sia since the ship started its mis­sion on Sept 23.”

“The Peace Ark is sail­ing the Pa­cific Ocean to ad­vance mil­i­tary diplo­macy, med­i­cal ex­changes and cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tions with for­eign coun­tries,” said Guan, adding that his ship had pro­vided free med­i­cal and hu­man­i­tar­ian ser­vices to lo­cal res­i­dents, Chi­nese na­tion­als and over­seas Chi­nese along its route.

‘Shared bond”

Show­ing US of­fi­cers and sailors around the Peace Ark, Guan said the first-ever Chi­nese hos­pi­tal ship to visit San Diego was an im­por­tant part of China-US mil­i­tary ex­changes. “The US and China need to main­tain reg­u­lar mil­i­tary ex­changes and com­mu­ni­ca­tions,” he said.

The Peace Ark’s US coun­ter­part, the USNS Mercy, ar­ranged com­pre­hen­sive pro­grams for the vis­it­ing crew, in­clud­ing hos­pi­tal ship vis­its, re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion and sem­i­nars.

Acosta said he was im­pressed by the Peace Ark’s fa­cil­i­ties, equip­ment and crew. “Med­i­cal ser­vice providers through­out the world be­long to one fam­ily re­gard­less of their na­tion­al­i­ties,” he said. “We are all united by the shared bond of pro­vid­ing safe med­i­cal treat­ment to our pa­tients.”

On Nov 4, the Peace Ark crew vis­ited the Naval Med­i­cal Cen­ter, where Acosta em­pha­sized the need for US-China mil­i­tary ex­changes: “We need to bet­ter understand each other and learn from best med­i­cal prac­tices. I can see only growth in fu­ture bi­lat­eral ex­changes be­tween our mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals.”

In Florida un­der a bright blue sky, the three ships of Es­cort Task­force 152 — with more than 800 Chi­nese of­fi­cers, sailors and spe­cial op­er­a­tion troops — was wel­comed by US naval of­fi­cers led by Ad­mi­ral Mary Jackson, of Com­man­der of Navy Re­gion South­east, Cui Tiankai, the Chi­nese am­bas­sador to the US, and mem­bers of the lo­cal Chi­nese com­mu­nity.

Af­ter greet­ing the fleet and guests in Chi­nese — Zaoshang­hao (Good Morn­ing) — Jackson said: “The seas are great high­ways con­nect­ing the peo­ple of the world. No mat­ter what dif­fer­ences ex­ist be­tween cul­tures, those who have served at sea share a com­mon bond that can only be fully ap­pre­ci­ated by sailors.” She said she hoped the fleet’s good­will visit would strengthen that spirit of friend­ship and un­der­stand­ing.

Se­nior Cap­tain Wang Jianxun, com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of the fleet and deputy chief of staff of the PLA Navy’s South China Sea Fleet, de­scribed the visit as el­e­vat­ing co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two navies from across the Pa­cific to across the At­lantic.

Li Bo, head of the Jack­sonville Chi­nese As­so­ci­a­tion, said the Chi­nese com­mu­nity had spent a month preparing to wel­come the Chi­nese fleet with a new dragon dance team. “Chi­nese Amer­i­cans hope for more co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the US and hope for peace­ful co-ex­is­tence,” he said.

Call­ing the visit an im­por­tant project be­tween the two mil­i­taries this year and an event of great sig­nif­i­cance, Cui said, “We are very glad to see the ex­changes be­tween the two mil­i­taries be­ing con­ducted in a very pos­i­tive at­mos­phere.”

He said that while China and the US have some dif­fer­ences, it is ev­i­dent that the com­mon in­ter­ests and com­mon needs of the two coun­tries on some global is­sues have been con­stantly in­creas­ing and ex­pand­ing.

“This is the trend and di­rec­tion,” he said.

We are very glad to see the ex­changes be­tween the two mil­i­taries be­ing con­ducted in a very pos­i­tive at­mos­phere.”

Chen Weihua con­trib­uted to this story. Con­tact the writer at junechang@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

PHO­TOS BY JUNE CHANG / CHINA DAILY

PeaceArk task group com­man­der Se­nior Cap­tain Guan Bailin shakes hands with US Navy Cap­tain Don­ald Sze at a wel­com­ing cer­e­mony held at the San Diego Port wharf when the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Navy hos­pi­tal ship ar­rived on Nov 3.

—JUNE CHANG

PeaceArk ar­rives at the Port of San Diego.

The hos­pi­tal ship was de­signed and con­structed in China as a sea-go­ing emer­gency med­i­cal­sup­port plat­form.

Se­nior Cap­tain Sun Tao de­scribes the ship’s mis­sion as res­cu­ing and treat­ing the wounded and sick at sea dur­ing wartime. “Dur­ing peace­time, it con­ducts med­i­cal ser­vices, as well as hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance. It also acts as a plat­form for med­i­cal staff to con­duct re­search and train­ing,” he said.

The ship is 178 me­ters (584 feet) long, 24 me­ters (79 feet) wide and 43.25 me­ters (142 feet) tall with a full dis­place­ment of 14,300 tons. Its med­i­cal cab­ins cover 4,000 square me­ters with five doc­tors’ of­fices, two med­i­cal staff of­fices and eight nurse sta­tions. A Z-8 res­cue he­li­copter is on­board for emer­gency pa­tient trans­fer.

There are eight op­er­at­ing rooms — where up to 40 ma­jor surg­eries can be per­formed daily — 20 in­ten­sive care unit beds, 300 reg­u­lar hos­pi­tal beds, ex­ten­sive di­ag­nos­tic and ex­am­i­na­tion fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing an X-ray room, ul­tra­sound room and a C-T scan­ner. There is also an ex­am­i­na­tion room for clin­i­cal spec­i­mens.

com­pleted its first over­seas de­ploy­ment in 2010 when it was sent to Dji­bouti, Kenya, Tan­za­nia, Sey­chelles and Bangladesh to pro­vide med­i­cal treat­ment to civil­ians. In late 2011,

trav­eled through the Caribbean and South Amer­ica, vis­it­ing Cuba, Ja­maica, Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica. In 2013, the ship was sent to the Philip­pines to pro­vide med­i­cal care in the wake of Su­per Ty­phoon Haiyan. It vis­ited four coun­tries in the South Pa­cific in 2014 — Tonga, Fiji, Van­u­atu and Pa­pua New Guinea.

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