China Defends RIMPAC Spy Ship

July 22, 2014 10:13 AM
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.


Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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