| WASHINGTON, July 20
WASHINGTON, July 20 China has sent a spy ship to
international waters off of Hawaii during a giant U.S.-led naval
exercise involving 22 countries, even as Beijing participates in
the drills for the first time this year, the U.S. Navy said on
The Navy played down any U.S. intelligence risk associated
with the proximity of the Chinese surveillance vessel and noted
that China also sent a similar ship to monitor the last Rim of
the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise two years ago.
"We've taken all necessary precautions to protect our
critical information," said Captain Darryn James, chief
spokesman of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
"We expect this ship will remain outside of U.S. territorial
seas and not operate in a manner that disrupts the ongoing Rim
of the Pacific maritime exercise."
There was no immediate comment from Beijing.
U.S. officials hope China's participation in RIMPAC helps
avert misunderstandings on the high seas but analysts long
cautioned the maneuvers may ultimately help Beijing strengthen
its growing naval capability by observing the forces of the
United States and its allies.
Still, the United States also conducts surveillance
operations in international waters and airspace and the Navy did
not voice protest over the appearance of the Chinese vessel,
described as a Chinese Navy auxiliary general intelligence ship.
Even though the vessel was inside America's 200-nautical
mile exclusive economic zone, it was operating within
international law, James said.
Still, James said he was unaware of any participant doing
something similar since the drills began in 1971.
"To my knowledge, this is the first time a nation has ever
sent a surveillance ship near Hawaii while also having invited
ships participating in the RIMPAC exercise," James said.
The Chinese ships participating in the drills are the
missile destroyer Haikou, the missile frigate Yueyang, the
supply ship Qiandaohu and the hospital ship Peace Ark.
Chinese forces include two helicopters, a commando unit and
a diving unit, a total 1,100 personnel.
The exercises come at a time when tensions are high between
Beijing and U.S. allies such as Japan and the Philippines over
China's pressing of territorial claims in the South and East
China Seas. They also come after a dispute with Vietnam that led
to one of the worst breakdowns in ties since they fought a brief
war in 1979.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)