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* Wary regional rivals set aside differences to hunt for
* Chinese, Japanese, Australian search crews share lunch
* Close watch on capability, especially U.S. Navy P8
By Matt Siegel and Jane Wardell
PERTH/SYDNEY, Australia, March 28 The
pot-bellied silhouette of a Chinese Il-76 military transport
plane appeared in the sky over Perth International Airport just
as the U.S. naval officer was explaining how he guards his
cutting-edge surveillance plane.
Lieutenant Commander Adam Schantz was ticking off the
measures, including a round-the-clock guard and armed rapid
response team, as he caught sight of the Chinese aircraft coming
in to land a few metres from the U.S. P8 Poseidon for which he
The search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight
MH370 is producing strange bedfellows.
"Yeah, it's a little different," Schantz said with a laugh.
At least six countries - the United States, China, South
Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia - are participating in
the search and rescue operation for the flight, which
disappeared almost three weeks ago and is believed to have
crashed in the southern Indian Ocean off Australia's west coast.
The level of military cooperation between a grouping of
countries that contains several traditional antagonists has been
unprecedented. But as the wary allies focus on solving this
mystery, they are keenly aware of the boundaries of cooperation,
diplomatic or military.
"When they are out there and the U.S. is using its sensors,
you can be absolutely sure that the Chinese are recording all of
that and are analysing how it's done because that's very useful
in understanding how the P8s work," David Brewster, a visiting
fellow at the Strategic Defence and Studies Centre at the
Australian National University, told Reuters.
The Poseidon, an anti-submarine warfare and electronic
signals interception plane manufactured by Boeing Co, is
the most advanced of its type. Australia, New Zealand, Japan and
South Korea all operate an earlier model, the P3 Orion, while
China has the larger Russian-made Ilyushin.
The P8 only entered service in 2013 and information on its
sophisticated sensors could be a prime target for Chinese
"I'm not surprised to see a lot of security. There's a lot
of political sensitivity," Brewster said.
Western forces are also keeping their eyes open. Air search
crews told Reuters that Australian personnel were flying with
the Chinese on their sorties. It was not clear if that was for
security reasons or to assist with communications after the
first Chinese aircraft to fly into Perth landed at the wrong
airport last weekend.
Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said on
Thursday that Chinese forces had had "effective communication"
with the other countries taking part in the search, including
"close coordination" with the Australians and Malaysians.
Then there are diplomatic sensitivities, chief among them
the stormy relationships between Japan and its historical foes,
regional superpower China and South Korea. By all accounts that
has gone more smoothly than many had expected.
Earlier this week, Australian Defence Minister David
Johnston hosted a lunch at Perth's RAAF Base Pearce mess hall
with a dozen representatives of both the Chinese and Japanese
search teams, as well as the Australians.
A defence ministry source in attendance told Reuters the
teams enjoyed corned beef or chicken noodles in a convivial
atmosphere, albeit sitting in their national groupings.
"It was very amiable and relaxed, there was no tension
whatsoever, it was all friendly - all very professional," the
source told Reuters under condition of anonymity because the
person was unauthorised to speak to the media.
Bringing together countries like China and Japan, which have
a history of tensions over strategic grievances going back
beyond World War Two, does raise cooperation issues, said Andrew
Davies, a senior analyst for defence capability at the
Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
But bigger political realities often faded, he said, when
the issue at hand was getting the job done.
"You might be surprised at how down-to-business the actual
operators can be on the ground," he said.
(Additional reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney and Michael
Martina in Perth and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Ron