A Chinese spy ship is currently monitoring the US-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) war games off the waters of Hawaii after Beijing was disinvited from the event, according to USNI News. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) spy vessel was first spotted near the event on July 11, though it has not entered the territorial waters of the United States.
“We expect the ship will remain outside the territorial seas of the U.S. and not operate in a manner that disrupts ongoing RIMPAC exercise,” US Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Charlie Brown told USNI, adding “We’ve taken all precautions necessary to protect our critical information. The ship’s presence has not affected the conduct of the exercise.”
“We continue to uphold the principle of freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law.”
The spy ship’s presence was criticized by the commander of the exercise’s combined forces maritime component, 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. “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.”
The presence of the ship off of Hawaii can be used a tool to justify more U.S. presence operations closer to China, Andrew Erickson, a professor at the Naval War College, told USNI News on Friday.
“The U.S. shouldn’t let China have it both ways,” he said. “No matter what Beijing says or does, U.S. forces must continue to operate wherever international law permits, including in, under, and over the South China Sea—a vital part of the global maritime commons that is 1.5 times the size of the Mediterranean and contains substantial areas that no nation can legally claim for itself or restrict access to in any way.” –USNI
A similar Russian spy ship observed the RIMPAC games in 2016 when China was a participant.
On May 23 the Pentagon announced that it was disinviting China from the exercise due to the recent militarization of the South China Sea, while Vietnam was invited to participate for the first time. Also making their debut will be Israel and Sri Lanka. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) had participated in 2014 and 2016.
The 47-ship, five submarine exercise between twenty-six countries will feature over 200 aircraft and be manned by around 25,000 personnel according to the US Navy. It will also feature the first live firing of the Lockheed LRASM anti-ship missile.
For a full list of countries and vessels participating in RIMPAC, click here.