by WorldTribune Staff, May 24, 2018
China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea has led the U.S. military to disinvite Beijing’s navy from the upcoming Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in Hawaii, a Defense Department spokesman announced.
China’s participation in the major biennial maritime war games since 2012 has been a bone of contention in Washington between pro-China “panda-huggers” and specialists warning of the rising China threat. The exercise is hosted by the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet.
Department of Defense spokesman Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan said the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) would not be participating in RIMPAC 2018 despite its participation in submarine safety and other non-warfighting components of the exercise in previous years.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, asked by the Washington Examiner if the decision could spark new tensions with China, said:
“We are not ratcheting up anything. In fact, we believe firmly in a stable Pacific. What we are doing is we are cooperating with China wherever we can, and we are going to have to also confront them when we believe that the rule of law or that matters that can destabilize the region are being pursued.”
U.S. 3rd Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Julie Holland told USNI News that China had been scheduled to be part of the Combined Task Force (CTF) 175, led by U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750) and joined by ships from several nations’ navies, as well as in CTF 171, led by U.S. naval expeditionary dive and salvage forces. PLAN would have brought four ships total, including its hospital ship Peace Ark, as well as a salvage diving team, Holland said.
Logan’s statement in full:
“The United States is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific. China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region. 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. China’s behavior is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise.”
“We have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea. China’s landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions.”
“While China has maintained that the construction of the islands is to ensure safety at sea, navigation assistance, search and rescue, fisheries protection, and other non-military functions the placement of these weapon systems is only for military use.”
“We have called on China to remove the military systems immediately and to reverse course on the militarization of disputed South China Sea features.”
“We believe these recent deployments and the continued militarization of these features is a violation of the promise that President Xi made to the United States and the World not to militarize the Spratly Islands.”