China’s military today accused the United States of a double standard, saying it, not China, is responsible for the militarization of the South China Sea, adding, “who knows what else may be hyped up in the future.”
But China also said it will send Navy ships to participate in this summer’s Rim of the Pacific maritime exercises in Hawaii, a premier event and the largest of its kind in the world.
“To take part in the joint exercise is conducive for the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Navy to strengthen its capabilities of dealing with non-traditional security threats, and to deepen its professional exchanges and pragmatic cooperation with navies from other countries,” said Col. Wu Qian, a spokesman for China’s ministry of national defense.
A Navy planning document said RIMPAC will be held June 30 to Aug. 4 in Hawaii.
Since last year, China has sent teams to take part in two RIMPAC planning conferences, Wu said during a news conference. “As to the specific arrangement about China’s participation, we are going to release information in due time.”
In late May, U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jack Reed, D-RI, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter saying “given China’s behavior in the past year alone, including its disregard for the interests of our allies, international law, and established norms, we do not believe Beijing should have been invited to this prestigious U.S.-led military exercise in 2016.”
China’s first participation in RIMPAC in 2014 was accompanied by the deployment of a spy ship off Hawaii to monitor the exercise, the senators noted.
“Despite our best efforts to build trust and cooperation, the pace and scope of China’s maritime sovereignty activities have only increased,” McCain and Reed said.
And that was before China more recently deployed surface-to-air missiles, a powerful radar, and fighter jets to contested islands in the South China Sea.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2000 prohibits military-to-military contact with China if that contact would “create a national security risk” due to exposure to operational areas, including advanced combined-arms and joint combat operations. But humanitarian assistance and ship passing drills are deemed acceptable with China.
U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, a Democrat from Hawaii and member of the House Armed Services Committee, said today that China’s limited integration into RIMPAC “offers one of the rare chances for our two countries’ military leadership to engage each other.”
“However, participation in the exercise is reserved for nations with similar interests to the U.S. in preserving freedom of navigation, access to global commons, and promoting peace and prosperity throughout the Asia-Pacific,” Takai said. “Should China decide to continue behavior outside of international rules and norms, its participation in RIMPAC should be reconsidered by the Pentagon.”
Lt. Julianne Holland, a spokeswoman for the Navy’s 3rd Fleet in San Diego, said Tuesday that all 21 foreign nations that participated with the United States in RIMPAC 2014 have been formally invited to return this year to the exercise that’s held every other year.
“We are still in the very early stages of the planning process so it would be inappropriate for me to confirm participating units this far in advance,” Holland said in an e-mail.
In all, 49 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel participated in 2014 in war games, interoperability and humanitarian assistance exercises, and weapons-firing drills off Hawaii.
The last RIMPAC included units from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, China, Peru, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Tonga, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Thailand was disinvited after a coup.
China sent four invited ships to RIMPAC: the hospital ship Peace Ark, destroyer Haikou, frigate Yueyang, supply ship Qiandaohu — and the fifth vessel, the spy ship. China also sent a spy ship to RIMPAC in 2012 when it was not an invited participant.
Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., head of U.S. Pacific Command, this week accused China of trying to create hegemony in East Asia and militarization and destabilization of the South China Sea — where reefs and islands are claimed by multiple countries — with deployment of advanced fighters and missile systems to the Paracel islands and three 10,000-foot runways in the Spratlys.
Wu, the Chinese defense ministry spokesman, said “as a country out of the region,” the United States has dispatched military ships and aircraft near islands and reefs China believes are its territory. The United States disputes this and worries China will restrict commercial and military passage in international waters.
Wu said the United States conducts “provocations and frequent close-in reconnaissance. Does this count as militarization?” The United States also “leaves no stone unturned in persuading and encouraging its allies and partners to conduct highly targeted joint military exercises and joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea. Does this count as militarization?”
Wu said establishment of an air defense identification zone for the South China Sea requiring permission for overflight “is within the sovereign rights of a country. And whether to establish such a zone and when to establish it depends on the threat that China faces in the air.”
He said “various factors have to be taken into consideration.”
If China does so, it will ratchet up tensions further.
Harris, the Pacific Command commander, said today at a press briefing at the Pentagon that he is “concerned” about that possibility.
“I’m concerned about it from the sense that I would find that to be destabilizing and provocative. We would ignore it just as we’ve ignored the ADIZ that they put in place in the East China Sea,” Harris said.
“Let’s give China a chance here and see if they’ll opt for a more stabilizing, less tense situation,” he added.