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Troops gather in Hawaii for Pacific exercises, ‘common interests’

The head of U.S. Pacific Fleet opened the big Rim of the Pacific exercise today by downplaying a South China Sea rift with China and talking not about what divides navies in the region, but what unites them.

Adm. Scott Swift repeatedly used the words “inclusive” and “inclusivity” at Pearl Harbor to describe RIMPAC, and said “it’s really not about size, it’s not about economic power. It’s about common interests.”

Swift, answering a question about whether China is being rewarded with RIMPAC participation at the same time the growing Asian power is causing strife in the South China Sea, said the interoperability exercise “is not about China. It’s about the 26 nations” that are participating.

“China is a significant country — just like Australia,” Swift added. “Just like the other countries. Just like Japan (and) the other countries that are participating.”

Twenty-six nations, 45 ships, five submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel will participate in the biennial RIMPAC exercise running to Aug. 4, mostly in and around the Hawaiian Islands but also in Southern California.

Five People’s Liberation Army Navy ships are in Pearl Harbor for RIMPAC events, which technically started Thursday.

At Tuesday’s pierside press briefing, the exercise’s international command staff was surrounded by warships including the South Korean submarine Lee Eok Gi, U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Coronado, the Coast Guard cutter Stratton, Royal Canadian Navy ships Vancouver and Calgary, and U.S. Navy destroyers.

Twenty-seven media outlets mostly from the United States and China, but also with a significant presence from Japan, are covering RIMPAC, the Navy said.

The Chinese missile destroyer Xi’an, missile frigate Hengshui, supply ship Gaoyouhu, submarine rescue vessel Changdao and hospital ship Peace Ark are participating in the exercise.

“As previously agreed by China and the United States, the Chinese Navy will take part in drills including gunfire, damage control and rescue, anti-piracy, search and rescue, diving and submarine rescue,” said Xinhua, China’s state news agency.

Swift said “inclusivity” is a tenet of RIMPAC, which has continued to grow as participating nations recognize that their prosperity is tied to the current security arrangement in Asia and the Pacific.

“This is what the international maritime community does in ensuring that the norms, standards, rules and laws that have provided the great stability and security — the foundation for prosperity — that we all (have enjoyed) for the last 70 years,” Swift said.

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