China has had enough with diplomacy.
Shortly after China's president Xi Jinping warned that "a conflict between China and United States will definitely be a disaster for the two countries and the world" a seemingly tone-deaf US responded by unleashing even more military forces in China's back yard, and announcing it was developing new military tactics to deter China’s slow but steady territorial advances in the South China Sea, including more aggressive use of surveillance aircraft and naval operations near contested areas. The message was clear: pleasantries are great, but immediately halt any territorial ambitions which impact American allies in the region.
Well, China responded, but not in the way that the US may have wanted. According to Bloomberg, China sent a surveillance vessel to waters off Hawaii even as the country participated for the first time in the world’s largest international naval exercise led by the U.S. As of Friday, the ship was operating south of the Hawaiian island of Oahu, near the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) carrier strike group (CSG) and the main body of the 50 ships participating in the exercise, several sources confirmed to USNI News.
Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy electronic surveillance ship Beijixing
(pennant number 851). A ship of this class is currently off the coast of Oahu,
monitoring RIMPAC 2014.
The auxiliary general intelligence ship is outside U.S. territorial seas, yet within the 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone, Captain Darryn James, chief spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. The vessel is not associated with the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, or Rimpac, that’s now under way, he said.
“U.S. naval forces continually monitor all maritime activity in the Pacific, and 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,” James said.
The irony of course is that this time it was the US that was placating China, by inviting China to participate in the Rimpac exercise for the first time. China responded by sending the second-largest contingent to this year’s Rimpac. "Designed to foster international cooperation as China’s navy expands its capabilities, the presence of the surveillance vessel has raised questions among some of the other countries taking part." While China is taking part in this year’s Rimpac, its forces are being kept out of most of the exercises’ core combat components. The country has sent four ships -- missile destroyer Haikou, frigate Yueyang, supply ship Qiandaohu and the Peace Ark medical ship.
Needless to say, the US is displeased:
“It sends a bad signal,” said Ben Schreer, a senior analyst for defense strategy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra. “There was a lot of good will on the American side that said ‘despite what you have been doing in the East and South China Sea recently, we invited you to this prestigious exercise and what you do is blatantly put this spy ship in the area.’ ”
China has been been taking a more assertive stance in territorial spats with Japan in the East China Sea and the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, which has raised tensions in the region.
“This is not the first time we’ve been under surveillance while we’re operating or exercising,” said Per Rostad, commanding officer of the Royal Norwegian Navy’s Fridtjof Nansen. “However, one might say it’s a bit novel when you participate in an exercise with participating units,” said Rostad, who worked alongside the Chinese navy to transport chemical weapons from Syria.
China slipped an uninvited guest into the world’s largest naval exercise. The U.S. invited four ships from China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to the Rim of the Pacific 2014 exercise — a move that was hailed as a sign of improved military-to-military relations between the two countries.
But China also sent an electronic surveillance ship designed to monitor signals from the ships, right to the edges of 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,” Capt. Darryn James, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet, told USNI News late Friday.
“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.”
James said the ship was not part of the exercise and would not speculate on the ship’s purpose but said that it appeared in the vicinity of Hawaii about a week ago.
“Any questions about the ship’s intent or capabilities will need to be addressed by the People’s Liberation Army Navy,” he said.
The ship is a Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) ship, one in a class of three PLAN ships designed to gather electronic and communication data from surrounding vessels and aircraft, sources confirmed to USNI News.
China watcher Andrew Erikson said the ship is likely to be one the PLAN’s most experienced, in a late Friday interview with USNI News.
“This AGI is most likely to be the Type 815 Dongdiao-class intelligence collection vessel Beijixing (pennant number 851), home ported in the East Sea Fleet,” Erickson, an associate professor at the Naval War College said.
“Beijixing is the most experienced vessel from the PLAN’s most advanced class of AGI. Based on Internet photos and Japanese government and other media reports, Beijixing is China’s most well-traveled AGI, having operated frequently near and within Japan’s claimed Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).”
The Dongdiao-class off Hawaii is operating inside the U.S. EEZ but not in territorial waters, James said.
“The Chinese Navy AGI ship’s presence is in accordance with international law regarding freedom of navigation,” he said.
“The U.S. Navy operates in waters beyond the territorial seas of coastal nations around the world while adhering to international law and norms, and China’s AGI is permitted to do the same.”
In other words, China is doing what it does best: responding in kind and calling out assorted nations on their hypocrisy: China’s Defense Ministry said the movements of the Chinese ship in international waters complied with international law, the state-owned Global Times reported.
"China respects the rights enjoyed by all relevant coastal states under international law, and hopes that relevant countries respect the rights enjoyed by Chinese ships according to the law,” an official in the ministry’s news department was quoted as saying."
China has long complained about U.S. surveillance activities off China’s coast within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. In 2009, China said that a Navy surveillance ship conducted activity in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone in the Yellow Sea that violated international and Chinese laws. The USNS Victorious didn’t seek China’s permission, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said at the time.
- China warns US not to provoke it, warning of a new "global conflict".
- US promptly provokes it by sending surveillance ships in the South China Sea.
- China responds by counter-provoking US, sending its own surveillance ship to Hawaii, during what is supposed to be an otherwise amicable naval exercise.