'Making friends, not war': PLA warships to join US-led naval drills for the first time

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 11:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

The US Navy has dispatched numerous ships to Hawaii as it prepares for Rim of the Pacific 2014, the world's largest international maritime exercise. It will involve 49 surface ships and six submarines from 23 countries, but the inclusion of China will get an inordinate amount of attention.

The People's Liberation Army will participate in the exercise for the first time, sending ships that include the missile destroyer Haikou, the missile frigate Yueyang, the oiler Qiandaohu and the hospital ship Peace Ark.

The Chinese were invited to join two years ago by Admiral Samuel Locklear, the chief of US Pacific Command, and will do so now as President Xi Jinping pushes an overhaul and expansion of the military.

But the engagement, which starts tomorrow, comes at an awkward time following a series of controversial moves by China within the last year.

That could complicate an already highly unusual level of engagement between China, the United States and its allies at Rimpac, even if senior military officials in China and the US have had discussions for years.

Earlier this month, Japanese and Chinese leaders traded barbs over how close Chinese jets flew to a Japanese aircraft over the East China Sea.

The close call came in an area where China unilaterally established an air defence identification zone in November and which includes the disputed Diaoyu Islands, which Japan refers to as the Senkakus.

China also has been locked in a heated disagreement with Vietnam, a US ally, over whether a Chinese oil rig should be allowed to operate near the Paracel Islands, in the South China Sea.

But it appears Washington is still pinning its hopes on China's rise remaining peaceful. In a trip to several Asian countries in April, US President Barack Obama said flatly Washington wasn't interested in containing China, while warning that it must avoid aggression against Japan and other US allies.

"We're interested in China's peaceful rise and it being a responsible and powerful proponent of the rule of law," Obama said.

Rimpac looks like an attempt to bring the Chinese to the table, but it also gives US military officials a rare window into what weapons they are developing.