The U.S. Department of Defense has, after five years, decided to rescind an invitation for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) to participate in the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises this year. The biennial exercises are the largest multinational naval exercise in the world and China participated for the first time in 2014 after the Obama administration extended an invitation in 2013. The PLAN’s invitation to participate in RIMPAC 2018 was issued by the Trump administration in May 2017.
China first participated in the RIMPAC exercises in 2014, as noted by The Diplomat. Back then China’s participation was lauded and viewed as a step toward cooperation. In Asia’s current climate, these exercises are especially important. The tension in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea tends to increase during summer months when activity is on the rise due to the presence of fishing and trade vessels.
RIMPAC is the world’s largest set of international maritime war games. The exercises occur every two years and are led by the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii. They are seen as a unique opportunity for Pacific Rim nations to cooperate as they train and work together to solve problems. Also, the games are seen as a way of ensuring open access to important shipping lanes in Asia’s increasingly contested waters. The exercises are also a display of power — in the sense that participants are able to understand the technological capabilities of other participants — and thus perhaps act as a deterrent to further aggressive action.
Several observer nations are usually invited, including China, Ecuador, India, Mexico, the Philippines, and Russia. While not contributing any ships, observer nations are involved in RIMPAC at the strategic level and use the opportunity to prepare for possible full participation in the future.