Posted by: arbeam | July 8, 2014

Historic Moment for Naval War Games

Chinese fleet joins others for RIMPAC exercise Updated: 2014-06-15 08:29 (Xinhua)   Chinese fleet joins others for RIMPAC exercise The missile destroyer Haikou (R), missile frigate Yueyang and supply ship Qiandaohu(C) are seen during the supply at sea in Pacific Ocean, during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) multinational naval exercises, on June 13, 2014.

Chinese fleet joins others for RIMPAC exercise
The missile destroyer Haikou (R), missile frigate Yueyang and supply ship Qiandaohu(C) are seen during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC)

Despite China’s friction with the United States and Japan, stirred by an increasingly bold Chinese military, a trio of naval officials stood on a Pearl Harbor pier last week and pledged to cooperate with one another.

“We can agree to disagree without being disagreeable,” said the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Harry Harris, who is himself half Japanese and the highest-ranking Asian-American ever in the U.S. Navy.

It is a singular moment in time, in terms of security in the Pacific.

While China’s military spending grows at nearly a double-digit rate – and its first of several aircraft carriers means the ability to take a fight far beyond its shores – the nation changed its tone and agreed to come to 2014 Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, the American-led war games occurring through this month.

Analysts said China probably sees the invitation as the rightful acknowledgment of its growing prestige on the global stage. The United States appears to be trying to find common ground with the rising power – though some said extending an invitation to the world’s largest international maritime exercises rewards China’s recent bad behavior in the East and South China seas.

“I’m confident that we will conduct more navy-to-navy exchanges and enhance our friendship. I think all this will be very conducive to our mutual understanding,” Senior Capt. Zhao Xiaogang of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, said through a translator.

Zhao is commanding the four Chinese ships – a destroyer, frigate, hospital ship and supply vessel – that traveled to Hawaii for the RIMPAC exercises.

Also in Hawaii last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said if China’s entry into these drills goes well, it might pave the way to Congress reconsidering the current restrictions on military contact between the U.S. and China.

Meanwhile, a Japanese admiral in Hawaii stepped forward and said his nation welcomes its historic rival “from the bottom of its heart.”

“I believe that participation of China and the improvement of the military power of a big nation such as China will contribute to the stability and peace and safety of the region,” Rear Adm. Yasuki Nakahata, commander of Japan’s Escort Flotilla 3, said through a translator.

In the same 24-hour span, back in Tokyo, Japan’s prime minister announced a reinterpretation of the country’s pacifist constitution that will allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to be more assertive.

Some analysts pegged it as a response to China’s 9.4 percent military spending growth since 2004, but others noted that it was the result of two decades of internal debate in Japan.

Dempsey noted that a rising tide of nationalism in the Pacific is one of the top U.S. challenges.

So why the cheery language in Hawaii – especially given Japan and China’s dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and the United States’ move earlier this year to charge Chinese military officers for cyber espionage toward American companies?

China is trying to put a “kinder face” on its burgeoning military, said Ralph Cossa, an Asia scholar and president of the Pacific Forum, Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu.

“What’s China’s theme? Peaceful rise. And right now a lot of people don’t think peaceful when they think of the (People’s Liberation Army) Navy. … You would be sending a different signal if you turned down this opportunity” to participate in the biennial naval exercises that date back to 1971, Cossa said.

China had not been invited in recent years, and the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act restricts U.S.-China military interaction. But in March, the Obama administration issued an invitation to the RIMPAC games and China accepted.

Still, while other nations will participate in military drills such as taking beaches and submarine hunting, China will be restricted to exercises focused on anti-piracy and distance response, for example.

“I’m sure there were people in China who were debating this, generals saying, ‘Should we really be doing this when they sued our military for cybercrimes?’ But I think there has been a desire to insulate these things and still have some type of dialogue,” Cossa said.

“So this was an important opportunity to do that, not just with the U.S. Navy, but with other navies. I’m sure there are navies here who had never seen a Chinese ship before. Or talked to a Chinese admiral.”

The spectacle has attracted robust international media attention, with 70 media outlets signed up to cover it.

On Saturday, when ships were open for tours, the Chinese destroyer Haikou was one of the most sought-after visits.

Chinese crew members in summer white uniforms led visitors through the 9-year-old ship, still shiny despite the journey across the Pacific.

In passageways, photos were on display showing the ship’s crew with past and former Chinese presidents.

On the stern, a Z-9 utility helicopter was tied down on a small flight deck. The bow devoted quite a bit of real estate to 36 vertical missile launching tubes.

Dempsey, the joint-chiefs chairman, called China’s presence at the naval drills a “great first step” when speaking to an international group of reporters in Hawaii on Tuesday.

“Depending on how this year’s activities go, and depending on other military-to-military engagements, we might have the opportunity at some point to go back to the Congress and suggest to them that the aperture should be opened a bit more broadly,” Dempsey said.

One conservative in Congress, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, sees some value in the current exchange.

“China is a regional aggressor and is always looking to establish more dominance across the globe. We have to be mindful of China’s interests and intent, of course,” said Hunter’s spokesman, Joe Kasper.

“But there’s a benefit to participation in the exercises on the basis that they will help build a bit of mutual respect and potentially realign the regional security dynamic, even if just slightly.”

The downside to opening the hatch to China, according to one expert on Pacific military issues, is that it appears to reward that nation’s maritime bad behavior.

In December 2013, a Chinese navy vessel tried to run off the San Diego-based cruiser Cowpens while in the South China Sea. China was operating in the area with its fledgling aircraft carrier, Liaoning.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called what’s been described as a near collision “irresponsible.” The ships were 100 yards apart.

China also has been accused by Vietnam and the Philippines of harassing their ships in disputed waters.

Denny Roy, senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, said China could handle some of its territorial disputes under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention.

Instead, it has used an emboldened navy to do its talking.

“I don’t like to see the Chinese to seemingly get away with poor international maritime citizenship. I would like to see the United States and other countries more clearly and in a united way take a stand on that issue,” Roy said.

“It’s not taking the opportunity to explain that (we) expect a basic level of good citizenship from RIMPAC participants,” he said. “China has distinguished itself by not reaching that level.”

China is in the midst of a military growth spurt.

With its economy enjoying a heady rise, Chinese leaders are making good on a plan to build a modern military to cement its renewed status as a great world power.

The Chinese navy already has the largest force of major surface warships and submarines in Asia, according to the 2014 report to Congress on China.

It is upgrading its submarine fleet and building a new line of frigates and destroyers and is expected to construct its first amphibious assault ship during this decade.

But the most significant development in the past year was the first long-range deployment of China’s refurbished Ukrainian aircraft carrier, Liaoning.

Last fall, the Chinese J-15 fighter jet demonstrated takeoffs and landings on the carrier while loaded down with weapons. The first Chinese-built carrier is expected to be up and running at the beginning of the next decade.

The report to Congress noted that the J-15 is more limited than U.S. Navy jets because the “ski-jump” ramp launch achieves less lift than an American catapult launch from a flattop. And analysts said while China has numbers, the capability of its ships and sailors lags behind the U.S. Navy – and may always do so.

And, China’s military spending – at least $119 billion in 2013, according to estimates – is less than a quarter of the United States defense tab of $497 billion.

Still, deficit hawks in Congress have put U.S. military spending on a decade-long downward slant under the budget cuts known as sequestration – something that has been much commented upon in Asia and elsewhere as the United States tries to execute its 2011 “rebalance to the Pacific” military strategy.

What’s Japan’s response to the growing power next door?

Cossa of the Pacific Forum said Japan’s conciliatory tone at RIMPAC makes sense.

“They want to make it clear that the aggressor in all of this is not Japan,” said Cossa, who added that some see Japan having “an image problem of its own” as its politicians probe the line between nationalism and militarism and protests erupted in response to last week’s policy change on Japanese self-defense.

“I think the desire is to demonstrate Japanese (willingness) to cooperate or openness to discussion,” he said, noting that Japan’s finances would hamstring any idea of a large military buildup.

Still, Japan arrived at the exercises with two destroyers, one quite new and capable of landing U.S. Marine Osprey troop helicopters.

San Diego Union-Tribune article, July 6 Jeanette Steele





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