HONOLULU (CN) — A large Chinese press contingent peppered military leaders with questions about China’s role in the biennial Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise — RIMPAC — currently underway around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.
“There are no expectations — on my part — for China,” U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander, Admiral Scott Swift said at a press conference Tuesday at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam. “My expectations are for RIMPAC, and all 26 nations participating, to feel when they leave RIMPAC that they are better prepared to respond together to a humanitarian crisis; that they have a better understanding of the best practices of the application of maritime power in order to increase security and stability within a given region.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently defended the Chinese presence at RIMPAC over the objections of Sens. Jack Reed and John McCain and others critical of China’s recent actions in the South China Sea.
Pressed by one local journalist, Swift denied that China or any nation is rewarded with RIMPAC attendance.
“Where countries have a common interest in the stability and security of the Pacific maritime, they’re welcome to come to RIMPAC,” he said. “The public debate is a reflection of the richness of our strength as a democracy.”
He added, “As the host, no country is rewarded by attending; rather there is an expectation that participants go through a regimented process from observer to participant. We want to make sure that all countries that come to RIMPAC have a successful experience. The command piece has nothing to do with rewarding anyone or diminishing anyone; it has to do with their ability to work within the command structure.
“I recognize that each country has their own goals,” he continued. “That’s expected and something that we encourage. But we also want to be sure that there’s a clear understanding that the RIMPAC exercises are focused on core elements, the primary being inclusivity.”
This year’s exercise, themed “Capable, Adaptive, Partners,” includes forces from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the People’s Republic of China, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga, the United Kingdom and the United States, and first-time participants Denmark, Germany and Italy. Brazil had to pull out of the event.
Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet and the RIMPAC Combined Task Force Commander, echoed Swift’s statements about international cooperation and recognized the international leadership team standing behind the podium.
“It has been obvious to me since the beginning of the planning project that each country has sent their very best,” Tyson said.
According to Tyson, the 45 ships, five submarines, 200-plus aircraft and 25,000 military personnel “will exercise a wide range of capabilities, from disaster relief and maritime security operations to sea control and complex war fighting.”
She added, “RIMPAC 2016 has introduced several new elements to the exercise. For example, a littoral combat ship will fire a harpoon missile. We will conduct submarine rescue training, and we have amphibious operations taking place in the Southern California operating area.
“This year also features the Great Green Fleet and the innovative use of biofuel to refuel participating surface vessels, which ultimately makes us more operationally effective,” Tyson continued. “Our commitment to innovation and experimentation will also be on display through our Trident Warrior series.”
Tyson said the training program also includes “gunnery, missile, anti-submarine and air defense exercises; counter-piracy operations; mine clearance operations; and explosive ordnance disposal and diving and salvage operations.”
In his opening remarks, Swift said that looking back over the last 25 years he was struck by three core elements of RIMPAC: inclusivity, continuity and place.
“RIMPAC brings together 26 nations from North and South America, Europe, Asia and Oceania,” Swift said. “This is what the international maritime community does to ensure the norms, standards, rules and laws that have provided the great stability and security — the foundation for prosperity that we all have enjoyed for the last 70 years.
“Participants are joined by a shared interest in maritime cooperation here in the pacific, where we are all locals, regardless of geographic size, military might, or economic strength.”
He continued, “It is a brilliant example of the inclusive security network that Secretary Carter spoke about at [the International Institute for Strategic Studies’] Shangri-La [Dialog] in Singapore just a month ago.”
As for continuity, two of RIMPAC’s original participants — Australia and Canada — have participated in every RIMPAC, Swift said.
“The exercise has continued to grow, as nations have recognized that their prosperity is tied to that security and stability of the Pacific, including new participants this year Denmark, Germany and Italy,” he said. “It is a recurring answer to the divisive angst and tensions that put security and stability at risk in this region.”
He added, “RIMPAC is about the ocean and seas that connect our navies in the Indo-Asia Pacific region, a vast maritime theater in which we are all deeply invested. It’s fitting that the world’s largest maritime exercise is centered on the world’s largest and most important ocean. Protecting and navigating these shared interests increasingly rests on the hulls of our ships, the wings of our aircraft, and on the backs of every mariner represented here at RIMPAC.”
Exercise events are scheduled to last until August 4.
Photos: Nicholas Fillmore/CNS
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