U.S. Disinvites China's Navy from RIMPAC Exercise

Participants in formation, RIMPAC 2016 (USN)

By The Maritime Executive 05-23-2018 07:46:00

The United States has revoked China's invitation to participate in this year's Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise, the largest naval drill in the world. China had been slated to bring several ships to the drills, which will be held off Hawaii this summer. 

“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 [H-6K] bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions,” said Pentagon spokesman Chris Logan in a statement. "As an initial response to China's continued militarization of the South China Sea we have disinvited the [Chinese] Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise." Logan called on China to remove its military systems from island bases in the Spratly islands and to "reverse course on the militarization of disputed South China Sea features."

The trial deployment of nuclear-capable H-6K bombers to Woody Island has important strategic significance for China. According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, the H-6K has a combat radius of about 1,900 nm, and it would be in range of most of the eastern Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific, from Sri Lanka to Guam. 

Adm. Phil Davidson, who is expected to head Pacific Command after the retirement of Adm. Harry Harris, recently told Congress that China has already consolidated its hold on the South China Sea. “Once [the island bases are] occupied, China will be able to extend its influence thousands of miles to the south and project power deep into Oceania,” he wrote. “The PLA will be able to use these bases to challenge U.S. presence in the region, and any forces deployed to the islands would easily overwhelm the military forces of any other South China Sea-claimants . . . In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”

The decision to disinvite China from RIMPAC comes as Beijing and Washington are debating the terms of trans-Pacific trade. The Trump administration maintains that the imbalance of trade is excessive, and has asked China to purchase more American goods. In addition, it wants China to roll back policies that require the transfer of intellectual property to Chinese firms as a condition for access to the Chinese market.