Sunday, March 24, 2013

PLA navy to join US-led Rimpac exercise for first time

PLA participation in Rimpac drill is a first, but will be limited by American sensitivities.
The PLA has accepted an invitation to participate for the first time in a major US-hosted naval drill, but legal restrictions will limit its role to less sensitive exercises like disaster relief, US officials say.
Beijing's agreement to join the drills being held next year comes at a moment of heightened tensions between China and US ally Japan over the disputed Diaoyu - or Senkaku - Islands, and unease in the US about China's military build-up and its cyber capabilities.
The Rim of the Pacific exercise, known as Rimpac, is billed as the world's largest international maritime exercise, with 22 nations and more than 40 ships and submarines participating the last time it was held off Hawaii last year.
Not all the participants are treaty allies with the United States. Last year's participants included Russia and India.
But China has never participated in the event, although it did send observers to Rimpac in 1998, the Pentagon said.
US Deputy Defence Secretary Ashton Carter acknowledged China had agreed to participate in Rimpac during a little-noticed speech on Wednesday in Jakarta. Carter said he was "delighted that they have accepted" the American invitation, extended last year by then defence secretary Leon Panetta.
At the time, Panetta said he asked China to send a ship to the exercises. Beijing said later it would give the offer "positive consideration".
"We seek to strengthen and grow our military-to-military relationship with China, which matches and follows our growing political and economic relationship," Carter said on the Defence Department's website.
US law bars the Pentagon from military contacts with the PLA if they could "create a national security risk due to an inappropriate exposure" to activities like joint combat operations.

There is an exemption for operations or exercises related to search and rescue or humanitarian relief, and China participated with the United States last year in a counter-piracy drill.
Lieutenant Colonel Catherine Wilkinson, a Pentagon spokeswoman, noted precautions taken by the US navy in drills to avoid revealing sensitive information.
"The US navy has operational security safeguards to protect US technology, tactics, techniques and procedures from disclosure," Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson declined to speculate about which drills China might participate in.
"US-China military-to-military engagements can include a range of activities in areas of mutual interest including maritime security, military medicine and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief," she said.
Commander Charles Brown, a navy spokesman, said the initial planning conference for Rimpac would be in May.

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