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China Defends RIMPAC Spy Ship

An undated photo of Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) Tianwangxing (853). A ship of the class is currently operating off the coast of Oahu monitoring RIMPAC 2014.

An undated photo of Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) Tianwangxing (853). A ship of the class is currently operating off the coast of Oahu monitoring RIMPAC 2014.

Officials with the Chinese Ministry of Defense defended the presence of an electronic surveillance ship off the coast of Hawaii during the U.S. led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) maritime exercise.

The yet-unidentified Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) ship — which arrived off the coast of Oahu shortly before the at-sea portion of the RIMPAC exercise — was well within its right to operate in the region, according to a Monday statement from the Chinese Ministry of Defense.

“The People’s Liberation Army naval ships’ operation in waters outside the territorial seas of other countries is in line with international law and international practice,” the Chinese defense ministry statement said as quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news service.

The statement also took the opportunity to tweak U.S. conduct in the South China Sea, with out naming America directly.

“The Chinese side respect the rights of maritime countries in accordance with international laws, but also wishes relevant countries could respect the rights Chinese ships are entitled to enjoy by law,” the statement also read.

China has long complained of U.S. Navy ships operating inside its Exclusive Economic Zone — 200 nautical miles offshore — collecting signals intelligence.

For example, in 2009 a PLAN frigate and several other Chinese ships confronted the U.S. surveillance ship USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23) inside China’s South China Sea EEZ. Impeccable was likely monitoring Chinese submarines operating from the nearby island of Hainan. At the time, China complained the U.S. was overstepping its bounds.

More recently, a U.S. Navy cruiser, USS Cowpens (CG-63), was confronted by a Chinese warship after the cruiser was seen tailing China’s new aircraft carrier.

Collecting the electronic signals from ships and aircraft is not new. Gathering electronic information — from radars emissions to radio signals — was de rigueur in the Cold War.

China had an AGI ship monitoring RIMPAC in 2012.

What makes the presence of the Dongdiao-class odd is China is a participant in the RIMPAC 2014 exercises, complete with a four-ship contingent.

Despite the mixed messages China is sending, RIMPAC is unlikely to be affected by the presence of the surveillance ship.

“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,” Capt. Darryn James, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet, told USNI News late Friday.

At least one U.S. legislator has said the Chinese conduct warrants no further invitations to RIMPAC.
“It is clear China is not ready to be a responsible partner and that their first trip to RIMPAC should probably be their last, ”Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces told USNI News in a late Friday statement.

RIMPAC — held every two years — includes 50 ships, 200 aircraft and more than 25,000 military personnel from 23 nations. The exercises will run until August.


  • KenofSoCal

    RIMPAC usually has a SINKEX. Just saying…

  • John Larribeau LCDR USN Ret

    Back in the late 70’s, we had Russina AGI’s tailing the carrier of our Battle Group just about continuously from the time we in-chop’ed to WESTPAC until we left. on more than one occasion, the BG Commander had the AGI take a station on the carrier so they could get their “good pictures” while staying in a safe and “predictable” place. The carrier would signal them of our corpen whenever we changed course so they could keep station during the turn. This worked surprisingly well….

    • Jack

      That’s awesome! It sounds weird but it actually makes a lot of sense…they’re going to tail you anyway so why not stick them in a place you can keep an eye on them. Thanks for sharing!

  • 2IDSGT

    Everybody snoops at these things; they just do it more discreetly… that doesn’t make China look like any less of a douchebag in this case though. My guess would be that some Chinese ears are burning with embarrassment, but have been overruled by individuals less concerned with appearances. Just watch what you broadcast and don’t invite them back next time.

  • muzzleloader

    The arrogance of the Chinese in spying on the exercise they were invited to take part in is galling. If the nitwit in the White House had any sense of propriety, the Chicoms would not be invited back.

  • LeeFriebel

    RIMPIC should add a drill to evade the spy ship using the fleet’s other Chinese ships at the most demanding seamanship positions with those ships providing the report of effectiveness and evaluation of the spy ship.

  • OleSalt_1

    Most Navies worth their salt will be curious to know the capabilities and strengths of their counterparts, friendly or otherwise. The Chinese military and the PLA-N follow closely the historical Chinese General Sun Tzu’s dictum of “Know your enemy know yourself, one hundred battles one hundred victories”. My guess is that the USN, and perhaps the JMSDF Intel would know and probably have taken counter measures to frustrate the Chinese ship’s spooky activities. If not, then time to be realistic and not be naïve.

  • Santiago Kampilan

    We should have put a spy ship behind their tail and follow them as they snoop Rimpac.
    Maybe we jam them a little bit and give them a hard time. Invite them to the next Rimpac and if they have a spy ship we do exactly what I’ve just said. Better yet send some fishing boats and tail the spy ship where ever it goes.

  • Secundius

    The next time the Chinese want to have Multi-Nation Joint Fleet Exercise, just return the favor. Have so many Intelligence Ship’s their that they can’t look of a porthole without see one. They’ll soon get the message.

  • zaza

    Let’s just Nuke them for noseyness

    • Secundius

      @ zaza.

      It’s tempting, but just a tab bit too obvious. I mean, it wouldn’t take them very long to find the smoking gun thought.

      • zaza

        but their guns would sure be left only of beta radiation smoke