Three PLA Navy ships carrying hundreds of sailors arrived in Hawaii on Friday to join a search and rescue exercise with the US Navy during a rare visit intended to foster familiarity.
The guided missile destroyer Qingdao, a frigate and a supply ship were welcomed with performances by lion dancers and a children's hula group. The ships carrying 680 officers and sailors will participate in the exercise tomorrow with the USS Lake Erie in waters off Waikiki and Diamond Head. The exercise was an important way for the two navies to share information about operations, so they do not misinterpret movements and potentially start a conflict, said Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
"There are lots of places where our vessels could end up in proximity, and we want to make very sure that when that happens we have the best possible understanding of what the other side is doing and why," he said.
The visit comes as Beijing continues to be wary about Washington's strategic "rebalance" towards Asia, in which the navy is basing a majority of its ships in the Pacific and boosting ties with long-time allies such as Australia and Japan.
China sees the moves as an effort to counter its expanding military and contain its growing economic and political influence.
Chinese ships last visited the US in 2006, when the Qingdao and the Hongzehu stopped in Pearl Harbour and San Diego for communications drills, and search and rescue exercises off those coasts. The two nations last held a joint drill last year during an anti-piracy exercise off Somalia.
The People's Liberation Army said the drills build on a June commitment by President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama to strengthen ties.
The navy said the visit was part of its continuing effort to develop relationships with foreign navies to build trust, encourage co-operation, enhance transparency and avoid miscalculation.
Rear Admiral Rick Williams, commander of US Navy Region Hawaii and the Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, said the two navies were showing their commitment to a stable world by working together for the next several days.
"We are linked with you together in history, and we will be linked together in the future," Williams said about China.
Rear Admiral Wei Gang, chief of staff, North Sea Fleet and head of the delegation, said there had been steady progress in Sino-US relations. "This time, I, together with all the officers and the men of the task group, entrusted by our Chinese government and the people, sailed all the way across the broad Pacific and brought here to our American friends the friendly feelings of the Chinese people and the People's Liberation Army," Wei said.
During the drills, sailors would practice turning ships at sea, conduct searches and rescues, and send small boats back and forth between ships, Williams said. US and Chinese helicopters will also work together.
Over the weekend, sailors will play basketball and soccer, attend receptions, and visit the USS Arizona Memorial and the decommissioned battleship Missouri, from the second world war.