28 July 2014

China’s RIMPAC Maritime-Surveillance Gambit

Andrew S. Erickson and Emily de La Bruyere, “China’s RIMPAC Maritime-Surveillance Gambit,” The National Interest, 29 July 2014.

Forty-nine ships from 22 countries, including China, are currently participating in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) maritime training exercises off the coast of Hawaii. Submarines and aircraft have joined them. But last Friday, an electronic display map of the operating zone showed a fiftieth ship in the middle of the exercise: an uninvited Chinese surveillance ship. The U.S. Navy (USN) has since confirmed that the vessel is a Dongdiao-class Auxiliary General Intelligence (AGI) – one of the Chinese Navy’s three most advanced spy ships, designed to gather electronic and communication information from nearby ships and aircraft, as well as the land-based military facilities that blanket Hawaii.

For the first time since the RIMPAC exercise began in 1971, China is an official participant. After receiving an oft-repeated top-level invitation to join, Beijing sent 1,100 official personnel, supply ship Qiandaohu, missile frigate Yueyang, missile destroyer Haikou, and hospital ship Peace Ark to Hawaii. That gives China a larger presence than any participant save the host. The Dongidao AGI was not invited, and is not associated with RIMPAC – though the USN has been monitoring the ship’s movement since its arrival. But last Friday night the spy ship’s large radomes were positioned directly south of Oahu, near the USN’s Ronald Reagan Strike Group and the main body of ships joining the drill.

The unprecedented decision to send a surveillance vessel while also participating in the RIMPAC exercises calls China’s proclaimed stance on international navigation rights into question – and threatens to undermine the warming military relationship between the U.S. and China.

Further information & analysis:

Andrew S. Erickson and Emily de La Bruyere, “Crashing Its Own Party: China’s Unusual Decision to Spy on Joint Naval Exercises,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 19 July 2014.

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