The US Navy’s Rim of the Pacific Exercise, called RimPac, is getting ready to kick off. This is how the US Navy bills the exercise:

The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2018 is the 26th exercise in the series that began in 1971.

It is held every other year and in 2016 it involved naval elements from 31 nations from Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Australia/New Zealand. One of the participating navies was China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

In 2014, the Obama administration decided that one of the ways of reducing tensions with China was to start treating them as though they were an ally or partner. And the Chinese reciprocated in their usual way:

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.

A message left with PLAN representatives at RIMPAC was not immediately returned.

Now tensions in the South China Sea are at an all-time high and the US has publicly disinvited China from this year’s exercise:

A Pentagon statement said the decision to disinvite the Chinese navy was “an initial response” to what it called China’s militarization of the South China Sea. China’s Defense Ministry had said in January that it was consulting with the U.S. over an invitation to take part in RimPac.

The Pentagon cited what it called strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers to contested areas in the Spratly Island region of the South China Sea. It called on China to remove these systems.

“China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region,” a Pentagon spokesman, Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, said.

“As an initial response to China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea we have disinvited the PLA Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RimPac) Exercise,” he added. “China’s behavior is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RimPac exercise.”

The Pentagon also cited its objections to China’s recent landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island in the Paracel Island chain, north of the Spratlys.

This may or may not be related to the hiccup in what had been the smooth-running diplomatic train heading towards the planned summit with North Korea. Yesterday, President Trump hinted that Kim Jong-un’s sudden attack of being an ass was related to his recent visit with President Xi. If this is a retaliation for that belief, then forging ahead on various trade deals with China seems counterintuitive. My personal belief is that the Trump administration is trying to treat China the same way they are trying to treat Russia, that is, that each relationship–diplomatic, economic, military, etc.,–is examined based on its own merits and rewards/punishments doled out in that specific area so a trade infraction, for instance, gets a trade response, not a diplomatic one.

Regardless of how we got there, it is a good thing. These large exercises amount to technology transfers. We are passing on decades of experience in the planning and control of maritime operations to the participants. The participants are practicing tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) that will be used in conflict. Giving the PLAN insights into those things makes no sense as they are our most likely maritime foe.