Pacific drill not targeting China, US says

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The United States says a major military exercise underway in the Pacific is not designed to counter or threaten China, but to defend Taiwan, the democratic island that Beijing considers a breakaway province.

China has publicly stated that it wants to develop the capability to take Taiwan, which it considers part of its territory, by force by 2027. US President Joe Biden has pledged to intervene militarily to protect the autonomous island in case of attack.

US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Samuel Paparo said the military Operation Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in Hawaii, which involves New Zealand, has focused on skills and technologies that would be “the most important for a potential conflict in the years to come”. “.

The military drill comes as Pacific Islands Forum leaders meet in Fiji this week to address climate change, conflict, the Covid-19 recovery and China’s growing influence in the region. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta are both at the summit in Suva.

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The United States has pledged to deepen ties amid growing Chinese interest in the region, with Vice President Kamala Harris announcing new funding and diplomacy commitments to the region on Wednesday.

Many democratic countries were alarmed when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a tour of 10 Pacific countries in May, with trade and security on his agenda.

Wang failed to conclude security pacts with nine of the Pacific governments, but did manage to reach an agreement with the Solomon Islands. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has defended his country’s right to choose its allies.

The controversial deal allows Sogavare to call on China to send police, military and other law enforcement to the Pacific nation to maintain social order and protect people’s lives and property.

Sogavare, who is attending the Leaders’ Forum, said his government has no intention of allowing China to establish a permanent military presence in the Solomons.

The RIMPAC exercise in Hawaii involves 26 countries and runs until August 4. The Royal New Zealand Navy vessel HMNZS Aotearoa, which was commissioned in 2020, is being used to resupply vessels at sea during the operation.

New Zealand Navy dive and hydrography teams, a joint New Zealand Army fire team and personnel from the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Army and Navy are also in Hawaii. .

Admiral Samuel Paparo, Commander of the United States Pacific Fleet.

US Navy

Admiral Samuel Paparo, Commander of the United States Pacific Fleet.

US military support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion in April has also raised questions from political analysts about what efforts Washington might make to help Taiwan if China invades.

Taiwan has existed separately from mainland China since the 1949 civil war and has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. Instead, it’s a vibrant democracy and technological powerhouse, aligned with the United States and other democracies.

But Chinese leader Xi Jinping has vowed to take control of the island and has sharply stepped up military activity around it in recent years.

In 2018, China was excluded from RIMPAC. Paparo insisted that the multinational exercise was not specifically aimed at countering China or any other country.

The military exercise sparked controversy. A group of peace activists and academics sent an open letter to Ardern, calling on New Zealand to withdraw from RIMPAC. The letter said the exercise was primarily intended to cement “US military dominance over the Pacific.”

Emalani Case, lecturer in Pacific studies at Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University in Wellington, urged New Zealand not to participate. The exercise polluted the environment, threatened wildlife and ignored the rights of indigenous people, Case wrote for The Spinoff last month.

Commander Dave Barr, of HMNZS Aotearoa, said the exercise would help improve the international response to natural disasters.

Asked if the Taiwan 2027 threat shaped the military exercise, Paparo said RIMPAC was designed to build international coalition skills in areas suited to the Taiwanese scenario. This included amphibious operations and long-range strikes, he said.

China has handed over a plan for its Asia-Pacific coexistence to the United States, Wang said after meeting his American counterpart, Antony Blinken, in Bali last weekend.

Wang said China and the United States should consider “establishing rules for positive interactions in the region and jointly uphold open regionalism.”

The Royal New Zealand Navy's newest and largest ship, HMNZS Aotearoa.

SIMON O’CONNOR / Stuff

The Royal New Zealand Navy’s newest and largest ship, HMNZS Aotearoa.

Paparo said many of the United States’ allies and partners in the Pacific gravitate toward distributed “types of lethality concepts.” He was also asked about the message RIMPAC is supposed to send to China and North Korea.

“On China, it’s quite concerning. The combat power that China has been developing over the past decades includes a power projection capability for power projection beyond its borders and beyond its shores.

“RIMPAC demonstrates the solidarity of all its participants towards the rules-based international order and the principles of sovereignty, freedom of the seas, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and against what would otherwise be activities expansionists. ”

On Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry said the Taiwan Strait was not international waters, with Wang challenging Washington’s view on international law.

Wang said the Communist Party considers Taiwan to be part of its sovereign territory and the “core of China’s interests”.

“If China and the United States can have healthy interactions in the Asia-Pacific, it could help release positive energy and also meet the expectations of all countries in the region,” Wang said, adding that the achievement of all of this depended on the ability of the United States to overcome its “hegemonic mentality”. .

This year’s Operation RIMPAC is the first large-scale exercise in four years, after the 2020 event was scaled back due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Paparo said. It involves 38 ships, four submarines, more than 170 aircraft, nine ground forces, about 30 unmanned systems in several areas and more than 25,000 personnel.

Other nations involved in RIMPAC include Australia, Tonga, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, France, India, Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Denmark, Israel, Colombia, Japan, Brunei, Malaysia, Mexico, South Korea, Singapore, Peru, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

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