China sends spy ship to Hawaii
China has sent a spy ship to the world's biggest international maritime exercise in Hawaii, after the East Asian country's invitation to the training was revoked over its actions in the South China Sea.
Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) comprises 25 countries, including New Zealand, along with ships, submarines, aircraft, and about 25,000 personnel.
It's the world's largest international maritime training exercise, which focuses on combat operations, counter-piracy, and disaster and humanitarian relief.
China was disinvited to the event by the United States, the host nation, earlier in the year over its actions in the South China Sea.
Admiral Philip Davidson, the new head of the US military's Indo-Pacific pacific Command (INDOPACOM), said the Communist country had promised not to militarise any of the outposts in the South China Sea.
New head of the US military's operations in the Indo-Pacific region, Admiral Philip Davidson, says China has sent a surveillance ship to the waters near Hawaii during RIMPAC.
But surveillance of the highly contested area showed the country had not kept that promise.
This militarisation led to the US revoking China's invitation to the biennial training exercise, Davidson said. "Straight up."
But this did not stop China trying to get an understanding of what types of operations the other countries were conducting.
Davidson said China had an intelligence-gathering ship close by, and the US was closely monitoring it throughout the RIMPAC exercise.
The ship is stationed in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the coast of Hawaii and arrived on July 11. It is understood to be a Type 815 Dongdiao-class intelligence gathering ship, which is outside the US territorial waters, according to US Naval Institute News.
Davidson said the ship was not a concern.
Many nations have intelligence-gathering ships," the US admiral said.
"We know where they are and they're monitoring exercises."
The US and other participating countries were taking the "requisite protections", he said.
In the past, Russia has also sent a surveillance ship to the waters nearby the RIMPAC exercise.
The US said freedom of navigation and international law allowed the ships to be in the waters near the Hawaiian islands.
It's understood any communications the ship could intercept would be scrambled. But it would be able to observe the positioning of the ships.
During his first media interview, since taking over the role in May, Davidson was not coy about the threat he believed China posed to open and free maritime routes.
The Indo-Pacific region had been largely peaceful for 70 years, thanks largely to the willingness of free and open countries to work together, he said.
“The attraction of the free and open international architecture that’s out there has benefited all of our security, our values, and economic interests.
“The challenge from a country that has an authoritarian and closed internal order, is how that would function in an international environment."
Davidson said during recent conversations, some Asian and Pacific countries had expressed concern the US was asking them to choose between the US and China.
"I certainly recognise the relationships are quite intertwined. The economic relationships we have with China are so important," he said.
"We're not asking our friends and our allies to choose between us.
"We're going to co-operate with China when we can," Davidson said.
But in the case of the South China Sea, the country had "overstepped".
"They're exercising some coercive economic practices in the region as well.
"And I think that our interests should be in a free and open Indo-Pacific, as opposed to some alternative structure that is rather opaque."
The US would compete with China where it felt it needed to, he said.
RIMPAC, and the appearance of the Chinese spy ship, comes just weeks after New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark launched the Government's rebooted defence policy paper, which for the first time called China out by name for its behaviour in the South China Sea, and growing influence in the Pacific.
Mark said the Government is "clear-eyed" when it comes to the forces interrupting the rules-based order.
"We live in turbulent times, the world is changing and there has been a re-emergence of great power competition," the policy paper said.
It specifically pointed out China's actions relating to its disputed claim to the South China Sea, and the implications of debt burdens it was placing on Pacific countries.
But China hit back at New Zealand, saying the country needed to "correct its wrong words and deeds".