3 ships from Chinese navy to join exercise in Pearl Harbor
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
For the first time in seven years, Chinese navy ships will pull into Pearl Harbor next month in conjunction with a search and rescue exercise that is part of a growing number of military-to-military exchanges.
"What I would make of it is that it's a sign obviously of improving relations," said Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum, affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
China is seeking greater stability in its relationship with the United States to avoid or, if necessary, manage tension that history suggests is inevitable between established and rising powers, a June analysis by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said.
The commission, created by Congress, added, "Beijing sees the United States as an essential economic and strategic partner, but also as the power most able to hinder the achievement of its objectives."
Three People's Liberation Army naval ships are scheduled to visit Pearl Harbor Sept. 6-9, including the guided missile destroyer Qingdao, the frigate Linyi and the supply ship Hongzehu, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said.
The cruiser USS Lake Erie will act as a host ship and conduct a reception for the Chinese sailors.
Details are still being worked out, but the plan is to conduct an at-sea search and rescue exercise with the Lake Erie and the three Chinese navy ships, said Capt. Darryn James, Pacific Fleet public affairs officer.
"This joint (exercise) directly contributes to military maritime objectives of improved air and maritime safety, and underscores the Pacific Fleet's commitment to supporting ongoing cooperative efforts in the region," James said in an email.
This is a reciprocal visit for the USS Shiloh's port visit to China from May 30 to June 1, James said.
Senior U.S. military leaders have talked repeatedly about the importance of engaging militarily with China to develop a better understanding of the other side's intentions and avoid miscalculation that could lead to conflict.
The United States has used military contact with China since the early 1980s as a point of leverage, according to the Congressional Research Service.
That engagement has seesawed up and down over the years, with the U.S. suspending "mil-to-mil" contacts and arms sales in response to the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
The People's Liberation Army repeatedly stopped bilateral military engagements over U.S. reconnaissance near China and arms sales to Taiwan, the CRS said.
But China now has the stated desire to have a "new type of great power relationship" with the U.S., and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in June with President Barack Obama at the Sunnylands estate in California.
Chinese Minister of National Defense Gen. Chang Wanquan met with military officials in Hawaii before meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon last week.
China also has accepted a U.S. invitation to participate for the first time in 2014 Rim of the Pacific war games off Hawaii.
"The China-U.S. relationship is important for stability and security in the Asia-Pacific and achieving security and prosperity for our two nations in the 21st century," Hagel said at an Aug. 19 Pentagon press conference with Chang.
Visits to China by two senior U.S. military leaders are planned for later this year.
Glosserman said China misread the global financial crisis in thinking the U.S. military would be constricted in the Western Pacific.
"I think in 2007 and 2008 there was at least a perception that China had felt that time was on its side and they could afford to be a bit more aggressive, and I think that's come back to bite them," Glosserman said. "Consequently, now the rebalance (to the Pacific) has unnerved them (and there is) the gradual, dawning recognition that what China has done in many ways has been counter to their interests by consolidating a U.S. presence and firming up alliances and relationships."
China has realized it needs to focus on the relationship with the U.S. and lay a foundation that allows it to assume a larger role in the region, Glosserman said.
Although a Chinese navy hospital ship docked in Honolulu Harbor in 2011, the last time People's Liberation Army navy ships were in Pearl Harbor was September 2006, according to the Pacific Fleet. The Chinese ships Qingdao and Hongzehu were here for communications and coordination exercises with the destroyer USS Chung-Hoon.
Chinese navy ships also visited Pearl Harbor in 2000, 1997 and 1989, the Pacific Fleet said.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2000 prohibits mil-to-mil contact with the People's Liberation Army that would "create a national security risk due to an inappropriate exposure," including advanced combined-arms and joint combat operations.
Exceptions allow for search and rescue and humanitarian operations or exercises.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report said China may pressure the U.S. in the "great power relationship" to cease military reconnaissance around China and the South China Sea, reduce arms sales to Taiwan and relax military engagement restrictions.