China to join US-led naval drill: Report

June 10, 2014 - 7:11:32 am

BEIJING: China has confirmed it will participate in a major US-organised naval drill for the first time, official media said yesterday, amid heightened distrust between the two military powers.

The Chinese navy will participate in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) multinational naval exercises, the military’s official People’s Liberation Army Daily reported. China is embroiled in a series of rows with its neighbours in the East and South China Sea that have caused concern in Washington, which closely monitors Beijing’s rapid military rise.

The PLA Daily report quoted navy spokesman Liang Yang as saying it was the first time that China would participate in the joint maritime exercise. Beijing will send four ships, including a missile destroyer, a missile frigate, a supply ship and a hospital ship to the drill, the report said.

The exercises are scheduled for mid-June, when Chinese ships will join US vessels off the Pacific island of Guam, a US territory, before sailing in formation to Pearl Harbour in Hawaii.

US officials had previously said that China had accepted the invitation to attend the drill, but there has been no confirmation from Beijing.

The RIMPAC exercise will be led by the US and will involve more than 20 nations and at least 25,000 personnel. In the previous RIMPAC in 2012 about 40 ships and six submarines took part.

The Pentagon last week said China underestimates its growing defence budget, which in 2013 probably neared $145bn, higher than the officially announced $119.5bn.

China’s defence ministry said it “resolutely opposes” the report, which it said “makes pointless accusations, exaggerates the ‘Chinese military threat’ and is a completely wrong course of action”, according to a statement reported by official media.

Beijing has sought to counter the US’s foreign policy “pivot” to Asia, seen as a move to refocus its attention on the region after years of intense diplomatic and military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Washington’s traditional allies include Japan — where it has military bases and whose security it guarantees by treaty — and the Philippines. Both of those countries have maritime disputes with China.

Meanwhile, China denounced Vietnam and the Philippines for getting together on a disputed island in the South China Sea to play soccer and volleyball, calling it “a clumsy farce” and demanded both countries stop causing trouble.

The comments by a foreign ministry spokeswoman were China’s first response to the gathering on the Vietnamese-held island of Southwest Cay on Sunday. Philippine naval officials described the meeting of soldiers from the two sides as a chance to show there can be harmony despite a web of overlapping claims to the potentially energy-rich waters.

“Don’t you think this small move together by Vietnam and the Philippines is at most a clumsy farce?” China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily briefing.

“China has irrefutable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and the seas nearby,” she said. “We demand that Vietnam and the Philippines stop any behaviour that picks quarrels and causes trouble ... and not do anything to complicate or magnify the dispute.”

The gathering underscores the growing cooperation between Vietnam and the Philippines, which have both felt China’s wrath over the South China Sea, even though both claim Southwest Cay and other islands.