A Chinese surveillance ship is currently operating off the coast of Hawaii, keeping tabs on the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise that it was disinvited to over Beijing’s moves in the disputed South China Sea.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy’s auxiliary general intelligence ship has reportedly been operating in international waters off the coast of Hawaii since Wednesday.
“The U.S. Pacific Fleet has been monitoring a Chinese navy surveillance ship in the vicinity of Hawaii,” U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Tim Gorman told The Japan Times on Saturday. “We expect the ship will remain outside of U.S. territorial seas and not operate in a manner that disrupts the Rim of the Pacific exercise.”
China was excluded from the exercise over what the Pentagon said was its “continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea,” including the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers. The move came despite China’s participation in submarine safety and other noncombat training components of the exercise in previous years.
The Chinese spy ship’s presence was slammed by the exercise’s combined forces maritime component commander, Chilean Commodore Pablo Nieman.
“It is very disappointing that the presence of a non-participating ship could disrupt the exercise,” Nieman said in a statement reported by The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “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.”
China also sent spy ships to observe the biennial exercises in 2012 and 2014, the first year it participated in the RIMPAC drills.
During the 2016 exercises, a Russian surveillance ship arrived in international waters off Hawaii.
Beijing has built up a series of military outposts in the South China Sea, which includes vital sea lanes through which about $3 trillion in global trade passes each year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.
As part of what some experts say is a concerted bid to cement de facto control of the South China Sea, Beijing has installed jamming equipment on some of the islets it controls in the Spratly chain.
In May, the Chinese Air Force landed bombers on Woody Island in the Paracel chain, north of the Spratlys, as part of a training exercise. Satellite images taken May 12 showed China also appeared to have deployed truck-mounted surface-to-air missiles or anti-ship cruise missiles at Woody, while anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-air missiles were also placed on its largest bases in the Spratlys.
All of these moves came despite a 2015 pledge by President Xi Jinping not to further militarize the islets.