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Chinese ship spying on RIMPAC military exercise off Hawaii, US Navy says

People's Republic of China, People's Liberation Army (Navy) frigate PLA(N) Yueyang (FF 575) steams in formation with 42 other ships and submarines representing 15 international partner nations during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014. (U.S. Navy/Shannon Renfroe)
July 16, 2018

A Chinese spy ship is off the coast of Hawaii during the U.S.-led military exercise known as RIMPAC, the U.S. Navy said last week.

Beijing has previously participated in Rim of the Pacific, also known as RIMPAC, but was disinvited this year for continued militarization of the South China Sea, officials have said. RIMPAC is the world’s largest maritime warfare exercise.

Despite being disinvited from the military exercise, China appears to be spying on the U.S. and the other RIMPAC participants, as U.S. Navy officials have located a Chinese navy surveillance ship near Hawaii.

The U.S. Navy said the Chinese spying will not have an impact on the exercise.

“The U.S. Pacific Fleet has been monitoring a Chinese navy surveillance ship operating in the vicinity of Hawaii outside U.S. territorial seas. We expect this ship will remain outside of U.S. territorial seas and not operate in a manner that disrupts the ongoing Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise,” said Navy Capt. Charles Brown, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Navy officials detected the arrival of the spy ship on July 11, and it has yet to enter the territorial seas of the United States.

Chilean Commodore Pablo Nieman is frusturated that China deployed the spy ship in response to being disinvited from RIMPAC.

“It is very disappointing that the presence of a non-participating ship could disrupt the exercise. I hope and expect all seafarers to act professionally so we may continue to focus on the work at hand and building on the spirit of cooperation that gives purpose to this exercise,” Nieman said.

Russia also has a history of spying on RIMPAC, as one of its spy ships was located in the same area when the exercise took place in 2016.

This year’s exercise is one of the largest yet, as 26 countries, 47 ships, five submarines and more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel were scheduled to participate.

It’s currently unknown if China will be invited to participate in the next RIMPAC, but analysts expect that its improved behavior and cooperation with the U.S. will be a deciding factor.

During the opening ceremony of RIMPAC 2018, Navy Adm. John Aquilino explained that China’s recent actions in the South China Sea are “exactly contradictory” to the exercise’s goals.

“China’s actions in the South China Sea in regard to providing offensive weapons in a contested area is exactly contradictory to the entire purpose for this exercise. So therefore it was decided at very high levels that they would be disinvited. This entire exercise is about nations cooperating for peace, stability, security, and a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” he said.