BEIJING (AP) — China is contributing 600 personnel, including 49 from the military, to multinational disaster relief exercises in Malaysia, the first time it has taken part in such an effort, the Defense Ministry said Saturday.

China's contribution will include experts from the foreign and civil affairs ministry, along with local government bodies and troops from the army and paramilitary forces, the ministry said.

One of the navy's most modern amphibious dock ships and its accompanying helicopter will also play a role in the drills, it said.

Along with its booming economy and rising diplomatic clout, China has increasingly engaged in disaster relief work and multinational exercises as a means of asserting its regional leadership.

China's military and civilian agencies sent scores of personnel to help out with Nepal's deadly earthquakes last month, along with helicopters and vehicles, and it has sent crews as far as Pakistan and Haiti to aid in responding to quakes, floods and other emergencies.

Those efforts remain in the early stages, however, and the Defense Ministry said next week's drills will mark the first time China had participated in large-scale joint military and civilian disaster relief exercises overseas.

The five-day ASEAN Regional Forum Disaster Relief Exercise 2015 is due to kick off on Sunday in the Malaysian states of Kedah and Perlis. The drills aim to practice management techniques and strengthen regional coordination on handling emergencies such as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

China is co-chairing the event along with Malaysia, one of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The U.S., Japan, South Korea and India among other nations and organizations taking part, with a total of about 2,000 participants joining in.