In June 2014, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will for the first time join the biennial Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) – the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise. According to the U.S. Pacific Fleet website around 25,000 personnel from twenty-three nations, along with 49 surface ships, 6 submarines, and more than 200 aircraft will participate. The PLAN has dispatched the missile destroyer Haikou, the missile frigate Yueyang, the supply ship Qiandaohu and the hospital ship Peace Ark – all in all more than 1100 men, including a commando unit and a diving squad – towards Hawaii. According to open source intelligence the Haikou – a Type 052C destroyer – is equipped with a modern naval weapons system en pair with the American Aegis Combat System (ACS).
China’s participation in the RIMPAC exercise is a clear signal that neither the United States nor the People’s Republic are interested in a deterioration of military-to-military relations. In fact, RIMPAC 2014 is part of a larger effort of senior military and civilian leadership in both countries to deepen military ties. During U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s last visit to China both sides agreed to an army-to-army dialogue, and an Asia-Pacific security dialogue between the assistant secretary of defense for Asia-Pacific security affairs and the director of the Chinese Defense Ministry’s foreign affairs office, among other things. Chinese President Xi Jinping already called for a “new model of military relationship” between the two nations at the Sunnylands summit in June 2013.