Since 1982 Thai and American troops have held a joint training exercise (Cobra Gold) each year. Usually the event is held in Thailand and over the years has come to include troops from other countries in the region. This year, for the first time China will participate. There were only 17 Chinese troops in attendance, but it’s a big deal because China’s neighbors would rather be training with Chinese troops than confronting them.
Most of the troops at Cobra Gold 2014 were American (9,000) followed by Thailand (4,000). There were also 80 from Singapore, 120 from Japan, 300 from South Korea, 160 from Indonesia, and 120 from Malaysia. Burma, Laos, Vietnam and several other nations sent observers. The 17 Chinese were there to observe, and participate a bit.
The Chinese were actually there for the disaster relief and humanitarian operations sessions. All the nations in the region stand ready to send military specialists to help with natural disasters, or as part of international peacekeeping operations. China became active in international peacekeeping in the 1990s, after the Cold War ended. Since then nearly 20,000 Chinese have served on peacekeeping operations and Chinese financial contributions to UN peacekeeping have increased considerably in the past decade. For 2015 Chinese contributions will take care of six percent of the UN peacekeeping budget.
Many of China’s neighbors see this increased Chinese participation in peacekeeping and international disaster as part of a Chinese campaign to reduce hostility over growing Chinese aggressiveness in asserting its territorial claims in the region. Despite that the Chinese contribution is appreciated and encouraged.