By Mahmut Atanur
BEIJING (AA) – China’s navy has confirmed that it will participate in a United Sates-hosted international maritime warfare exercise in the Pacific for the second time despite tensions between the countries over the disputed South China Sea.
The state-run People’s Daily Online reported Friday that navy spokesman Liang Yang said a missile destroyer, missile frigate, supply ship, hospital ship, submarine rescue vessel and two helicopters would join the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) drills scheduled for June 30 to Aug. 4.
Liang added Thursday that Chinese personnel would participate in various exercises including those involving damage control and submarine rescue, as agreed earlier by the two navies, who will also attend sports events and exchanges.
China’s navy joined the RIMPAC drills -- held every even-numbered year -- for the first time in 2014.
RIMPAC is the largest international maritime warfare exercise in the world, since first being held in 1971.
This year’s war games are due to be attended by 27 countries, with the participation of 45 ships, five submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel in and around the Hawaiian Islands and southern California.
China and the U.S. have been accusing one another of leading to militarization of the resource-rich South China Sea, a critical asset for global shipping and fishing that sees more than $5 trillion in maritime trade every year.
China considers almost all of the maritime area its territory, but the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
China's reclamation work in the region, which includes the building of airfields on some disputed islands, has prompted the U.S. and its allies to express alarm over the maritime expansion, which they suspect is aimed at extending its military reach.
Last month, an American guided missile destroyer sailed near a reef in the sea’s disputed Spratly Islands chain, in the latest of U.S. "freedom of navigation" operations -- moves Beijing has called “provocative”.