02 July 2014

China’s RIMPAC Debut: What’s in It for America?

Invitations arent everything: China’s navy (legally) monitored RIMPAC 2012 in the U.S. EEZ despite lacking invitation to do so, or to participate in the exercise itself.

DoD’s 2013 report on China’s military explains: “the PLA Navy has begun to conduct military activities within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of other nations, without the permission of those coastal states. Of note, the United States has observed over the past year several instances of Chinese naval activities in the EEZ around Guam and Hawaii. One of those instances was during the execution of the annual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in July/August 2012. While the United States considers the PLA Navy activities in its EEZ to be lawful, the activity undercuts China’s decades-old position that similar foreign military activities in China’s EEZ are unlawful.”

Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “China’s RIMPAC Debut: What’s in It for America?The National Interest, 3 July 2014.

As tensions simmer in the East and South China Seas, clouds of doubt overhang China’s presence at Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, it is hosted biannually by the U.S. Navy. But despite concerns that Beijing’s participation constitutes a net loss for Washington, the U.S. can in fact derive substantial value from including China while building global maritime security partnerships. This “big tent” approach demonstrates willingness to weather regional turbulence to advance a longer-term push for Beijing to recalibrate its contributions to global maritime security to levels commensurate with its growing power.

After a 16-day transpacific voyage beginning on China’s eastern shores, a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) four-ship flotilla docked at Pearl Harbor on June 24. Running from June 26-August 1, RIMPAC includes a collection of 49 surface vessels, six submarines, over 200 aircraft, and over 25,000 personnel from 22 countries. 1,100 Chinese personnel and four ships are participating, including missile destroyer Haikou, missile frigate Yueyang, supply ship Qiandaohu, and hospital ship Peace Ark, as well as two helicopters, a commando unit, a diving squad, and a medical team. Notably, China’s task force is the largest of any nation after America’s. It first rendezvoused in Guam with ships from the navies of Singapore, Brunei (another first-time participant) and the U.S., with whom it then sailed into Pearl Harbor. …