China-U.S. cooperating on natural disaster mitigation, says top Army engineer
WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is cooperating with China on a number of fronts involving areas of mutual interest, such as storm and earthquake mitigation, said the USACE commander.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick spoke at a media roundtable with foreign press on USACE support to the Asia-Pacific region at the State Department's Foreign Press Center here, today.
While better known for its storm and flood mitigation projects in the U.S., USACE also undertakes projects overseas, within 22 nations in the Asia-Pacific region, including China.
Last year, as part of the annual U.S. and China disaster management exchange, a Chinese delegation visited both Washington and New York City to discuss USACE's response to Hurricane Sandy and ongoing efforts along the Northeast coast in response to that super storm, Bostick said. USACE has a reciprocal visit to China planned for later this year.
China gets hit frequently with destructive typhoons along its east coast as well, so there are a lot of similarities in terms of climate, weather systems and coastal terrain with large population centers.
Other exchanges with China include sharing lessons learned and new ways to mitigate problems with water supply, navigation, flood risk, port facilities and dams, including the Yangtze River's Three Gorges Dam.
One of the reporters asked Bostick about that dam, which has been criticized as creating some negative environmental impacts.
Bostick pointed out that the U.S. has its own share of problem dams, including some older ones, so it too can benefit by taking in lessons learned from China.
"In China, we both have a mutual interest in water resource management," he said. "So our engagement and participation with China is not necessarily from a mil-to-mil relationship."
Besides water resource management, USACE and China have looked at disaster response procedures. Both China and the U.S., for instance, get hit by earthquakes.
Since the relationship is not pure military, "a lot of our work comes up directly from the country through the State Department (then) through the Corps of Engineers," he said.
Bostick added that, while senior USACE leaders have gone to China, he'd "love to go" there as well.
A better U.S.-China relationship would be good from a "strategic perspective," and from an operational perspective, as both countries could learn from each other.
But Bostick didn't rule out military-to-military cooperation.
"As a Soldier, I'd love to work with their military in terms of where we can learn lessons from each other on how engineers operate in both of our countries."
ELSEWHERE IN ASIA
The USACE has been busy doing projects and sharing ideas with other Asian countries as well.
In Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, countries that are drained by the lower Mekong River, USACE has provided technical expertise in disaster planning, working through the Mekong River Commission, Bostick said.
The terrain and climate of the Mekong Delta region closely resembles that of the lower Mississippi area, he said, in terms of flooding, droughts and impacts to large population centers.
Those countries and the U.S. have participated in exercises and exchanges and representatives from that region have even sailed on USACE watercraft along the Mississippi and its tributaries to get a first-hand perspective, he said.
Besides waterways, USACE has been involved in area construction projects, including 34 in Vietnam. He said these include schools, medical facilities and emergency operations centers.
Hundreds of other projects have been done or are underway in Bangladesh, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
In South Korea, a country familiar to many Soldiers, two very large projects are about 42 percent completed, Bostick said. Those include the Yongsan Relocation Plant and the Land Partnership Plan.
When completed, the two programs "will enable the return of land to South Korea and the relocation of about 12,000 troops to Camp Humphreys from Yongsan Garrison, and from multiple locations north of Seoul."
That estimated completion date is 2017, he said, and one of the results of those projects will be the construction of new family housing to further increase accompanied tours.
In Japan, USACE is working closely with its sister services, the Navy and Marine Corps on some massive projects.
One of those projects will shift the entire aircraft carrier wing of the USS George Washington from Atsugi to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. It includes moving or construction about 170 buildings.
Another project involves moving Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, north to Camp Schwab. Bostick said that should be completed by 2022, and will result in a smaller U.S. footprint on Okinawa, something many of the islanders have long advocated.
In 2011, USACE provided technical expertise and support to Japan in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which killed thousands and destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex.
He said assistance included terrain visualization using geographic information systems, or GIS, flood-damage assessments and fault-line analysis.
In India, USACE is managing construction of a C-17 facility for the Indian air force station in Hindon, with expected completion by 2016. USACE is also assisting the government with the transfer of C-17 transport aircraft as part of the U.S. foreign military sales program. The delivery is underway, he said.
All of these types of projects "increase cooperation and partnerships throughout the region and provides value to the international community," Bostick said, adding that USACE not only partners with other countries, it works closely with the State Department and agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development.
And, in the case of the Asia-Pacific region, USACE also works through U.S. Army Pacific and U.S. Pacific Command.
Besides that, only Congress can authorize projects and appropriated funding to do the work, he added.
Bostick said that while USACE is an Army organization, it only has 700 Soldiers in uniform. The remaining 33,000 are civilians. All have expertise in training, engineering, construction and science, he added. And that experience is "broad and deep."