For the first time ever, China’s PLA Navy will take part in the international RIMPAC naval exercise hosted by the U.S. Pacific Fleet. This year, RIMPAC is slated to take place between June 26 and August 1. The exercise will involve 47 surface ships, six submarines, over 200 aircraft, and 25,000 troops. China will send four ships. The exercise will be the world’s largest maritime exercise, involving 23 nations, and comes as tensions are high in the Asia-Pacific region over disputes in East and South China Seas. In addition to China, Brunei will be participating in the exercise for the first time as well.
The United States originally extended an invitation to the Chinese navy in 2012 when then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited China. Panetta invited China to participate in the exercise as a gesture that would increase military-to-military trust (which remains lacking today) between the United States and China. In June 2013, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi expressed China’s intent to accept the United States’ invitation to participate in the exercise.
RIMPAC 2014 will be led by the United States with support from Australian and Japanese commanders. Rear Admiral Yasuki Nakahata of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force will serve as vice commander to the deputy commander of the Combined Task Force during the exercise. China’s involvement in RIMPAC will mean that its navy will cooperate with the Japanese navy at a time when the two countries are at an impasse over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Apart from China, Japan, the United States and Australia, the other countries participating in RIMPAC 2014 are Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga, and the United Kingdom.
Operationally, the exercise will focus on increasing naval interoperability in activities including disaster relief, maritime security operations, sea control, and complex war-fighting. According to the U.S. Navy, “the relevant, realistic training syllabus includes amphibious operations, gunnery, missile, anti-submarine and air defense exercises as well as counter-piracy, mine clearance operations, explosive ordnance disposal and diving and salvage operations.”
RIMPAC’s stated goal is to provide “a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans.” The exercise takes place biennially during the summer in the waters off Honolulu, Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.