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U.S. Pacific Commander: Chinese Spy Ship Off Hawaii Has An Upside

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Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, greets Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Republic of China Gen. Fang Fenghui aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on May 13, 2014. US Navy Photo

Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, greets Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Republic of China Gen. Fang Fenghui aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on May 13, 2014. US Navy Photo

The high profile story of a Chinese surveillance ship off the cost of Hawaii could have a positive aspect for U.S. operations in the Pacific, the head of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) said in a Tuesday afternoon briefing with reporters at the Pentagon.
“The good news about this is that it’s a recognition, I think, or acceptance by the Chinese for what we’ve been saying to them for sometime,” PACOM commander Adm. Samuel Locklear told reporters.
“Military operations and survey operations in another country’s [Exclusive Economic Zone] — where you have your own national security interest — are within international law and are acceptable. This is a fundamental right nations have.”

China has long clashed with the U.S. over similar American monitoring operations in EEZs off of Chinese coasts, often calling the operations illegal.

But if China has accepted international norms in operating its ships in foreign EEZs in it could ease tensions when the U.S. — or any other international navy — does the same to China.

Last year, China and the U.S. clashed over an incident in which a U.S. cruiser — trailing a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft carrier group — was forced off course by a PLAN amphibious ship.

In 2009, a U.S. Military Sealift Command (MSC) surveillance ship — likely listening in on PLAN submarine operations in China’s EEZ — was harassed by Chinese ships.

Monitoring ships and their activities in international waters is an age-old intelligence gathering technique for navies.

The common signals intelligence practice by any opposing navy is invaluable to understanding a rival’s systems and how it operates.

The Soviet Navy sometimes famously disguised their surveillance ships as commercial trawlers and U.S. submarines did brisk business monitoring Russian fleet operations during the height of the Cold War.

In the current instance, what has made the presence of the PLAN Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) ship different from signals intelligence missions in the past is that Chinese ships are full participants in the RIMPAC exercise, which Locklear admitted was strange.

“RIMPAC] is an opportunity to build trust and confidence and that’s happening. The introduction of the AGI kind of made it look a little odd. But it hasn’t stopped the exercise and it hasn’t created any difficulties in the exercise,” Locklear said.
“The other good side is it gives the Chinese the opportunity to see how their own ships are doing.”

  • OleSalt_1

    It was wise for the USN Pacific Command to accept the PLA-N ship’s information gathering activities off Hawaii. After all, US ships have done monitoring of Chinese ships/subs, and are expected to continue such activities. So it’s justifiable tit-for-tat. It is common knowledge that most Navies worth their salt will do intel gathering of their potential adversaries. BTW “Spying” is a brash word – “Info gathering” more diplomatic (my personal opinion).

  • Blackshoe70

    I think it clutching at straws to suggest that a PLAN surveillance ship in the US exclusive economic zone to monitor RIMPAC signals Chinese acceptance of “international norms” for operations of foreign naval vessels in the Chinese EEC. Certainly, this incident clearly shows that that the US recognizes this “fundamental right of all nations” and that China is willing to take advantage of our permissive posture on the issue. It is an extreme case of wishful thinking though, believe that this signals a sea change in the Chinese policy. China has frequently condemned such operations by foreign navies in the Chinese EEC as illegal. The record shows numerous instances of Chinese harassment of foreign naval ships & aircraft conducting such operations. I will not believe that the leopard has changed its spots until the Chinese issue a definitive, unambiguous statement recognizing this “fundamental right of all nations” and have proved that they mean what they say by not harassing ships monitoring PLAN operations in the Chinese EEZ.when theyrecognized

  • old guy

    Make NO mistake, ADM Sam Locklear is an extremely sharp officer. I’m certain he will extract benefits for the USA. Maybe a reciprocal visit?