CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — China's contribution of ships and planes to the Indian Ocean search for the missing Malaysian airliner showed the trust and familiarity that had developed between the Chinese and Australian militaries, Australia's Defense Chief Gen. David Hurley said on Monday.
Hurley and Defense Secretary Dennis Richardson told a Senate committee that relations between the two militaries were strong and remained unaffected by strategic rivalry between China — Australia's most important trade partner — and Australia's most important security ally, the United States.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel angered Beijing at a Singapore forum at the weekend by accusing China of undermining peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region through aggressive moves to claim jurisdiction over land and sky.
Hurley praised China's contribution to the Australia-led search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 which is thought to have crashed off the west Australian coast on March 8 with 239 people aboard, mostly Chinese passengers.
He told a routine Senate inquiry into defense issues that the Chinese military "became very much part of the team."
"That was sort of indicative of the knowledge and trust that had been built up over a number of years between the two defense organizations," Hurley said.
The seabed search for the missing Boeing 777 ended last week without finding any wreckage. A Chinese survey ship with powerful sonar equipment will map a larger area of the ocean floor starting in August before a new seabed search begins. The survey ship, Zhu Kezhen, headed for an Australian port on Monday for repairs to electrical equipment.
The Australian and Chinese navies have conducted limited joint exercises in recent years around humanitarian assistance and disaster relief scenarios.
Richardson, the civilian head of the Defense Department, described the bilateral military relationship as "highly developed," but added there was "still a long, long way to go" to fulfill its potential.
"There is clearly an element of strategic competition between China and the United States; part of that is simply an inevitable part of the geopolitical process that plays out," Richardson said.
"There are definitely challenges there, but it (Sino-U.S. competition) doesn't get in the way of our developing relationship with China," he said.
US. Marine numbers were growing at a training hub in the northern Australian city of Darwin established in 2011 as part of the U.S. pivot toward Asia, which was criticized by China.
Hurley said numbers had grown from 200 Marines a year to 1,150 Marines in the current rotation. There is expected to be a peak of 2,500 Marines in 2017.
Hurley said Australian soldiers were learning amphibious warfare skills from the Americans.