China to join US-led maritime drill in 2014

By Kentaro Nakajima | Source: ANN
First-ever invite seeks to build trust.

The Chinese Navy will participate in the US-organised RIMPAC multinational maritime exercise off Hawaii for the first time in 2014, informed sources have said.

The Rim of the Pacific Exercise is the world’s largest joint naval exercise, held once every two years. Former US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta called on the Chinese Navy to participate when he visited China in September.

The administration of US President Barack Obama intends to stabilise Asia-Pacific security through the establishment of mutual trust with China on the military level, the sources said Thursday. It would like to expand military exchanges with Beijing, which has been increasingly seeking to expand its interests in the Pacific, they said.

This year the US Navy officially invited its Chinese counterpart to the exercise and the Chinese side expressed its intention to participate, according to the sources.

China had never been invited to RIMPAC before and had called it a “China containment” policy by the United States and other nations.

The exercise mainly consists of tactical training programmes including ship-to-ship battle drills, antisubmarine warfare, sea-to-air drills and missile launches.

Twenty-two countries sent 46 vessels, about 200 aircraft and about 25,000 personnel to RIMPAC 2012, including those from the US Navy and the Maritime Self-Defence Force.

Eleven countries including the United States, Japan, Australia, South Korea and Canada sent vessels and aircraft, while another 11 countries sent only personnel.

At this stage it has not been decided whether China will send vessels and aircraft to RIMPAC 2014, the sources said.

RIMPAC started during the Cold War in 1971 to consolidate the unity of the navies of Western nations, such as Australia, Canada and the United States, against the Soviet Union.

The MSDF has participated in every RIMPAC since 1980. After the end of the Cold War, the exercise has mainly been held to foster mutual trust among the navies of participating nations. Russia participated for the first time in RIMPAC 2012.

Soft, hard approaches

Against China, which has been strengthening its naval power, the US government has been taking both “soft” and “hard” approaches.

On the hard side, it has tried to keep China in check by reinforcing alliances with Japan and other countries. In contrast, its invitation to RIMPAC, which is part of military exchanges by the United States, is a soft approach.

The Chinese Navy has acted in ways that indicate the country does not understand international rules, a defense source said. Such actions include applying a fire-control radar at an MSDF destroyer near the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture in January.

The invitation to the RIMPAC joint military exercise is aimed at prompting China to recognise global standards that would increase the transparency of its military activities.

The United States is worried that if China continues to conduct provocative naval actions in the East China and South China seas, the chance of an accidental military clash with neighbouring countries will rise.

Sources say RIMPAC does not require extensive military technology, as the participating nations have included countries with relatively vulnerable navies in recent years.

Some defence sources said RIMPAC 2014 may offer opportunities to gauge the real ability of the Chinese Navy, although it is undecided whether Beijing will contribute vessels and aircraft.

China is likely aiming to combat the impression that the framework of the exercises is “against China”.

Meanwhile, the possibility remains that North Korea will grow increasingly tense, as such a move by China may further alienate Pyongyang from the international community.