WASHINGTON: China, which continues to militarize the fake islands it’s creating in the South China Sea, may get uninvited to RIMPAC, the biggest naval exercise in the world.
Rep. Mark Takai of Hawaii told Defense Secretary Ash Carter during yesterday’s House Armed Services Committee posture hearing that he will introduce language into the House version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act try to bar the Peoples Republic of China from the enormous naval exercise. How big is RIMPAC? In 2012, 42 ships from 22 countries took part.
But Congress remains deeply uneasy with China’s participation, especially in light of its actions in the South China Sea and the way it bullies the naval forces of US allies and partners in the region. The two top defense policy senators, John McCain and Jack Reed, are on the record opposing Chinese participation.
Here’s what I reported when Carter first confirmed that China would attend RIMPAC:
In a July 16 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, Carter goes to some lengths to avoid offending China, on the one hand, and, on the other, to placate McCain and the committee’s ranking member, Jack Reed, who don’t want China taking part in RIMPAC 2016. The two defense lawmakers wrote Carter a May 21 letter about this. In his response to the SASC leaders, Carter says China “is engaging in some conduct that is causing us to respond and to draw closer to the many allies and partners that share our concern.”
But exercises such as RIMPAC are not just rewards to friends and a chance to test weapons, communications, radars and techniques, tactics and procedures. They are hugely important intelligence opportunities. Every country tries to maximize what it gets from its allies and partners and to minimize what they give away. A Senate staffer who follows these issues stressed that “it’s complicated.” The US, instead of simply saying no, should assess “the value of PLAN participation, but it should be weighed against other things (intel value, specifically).”
Whether lawmakers can be that sophisticated and give that much leeway to the Defense Department and Intelligence Community remains to be seen.