Navy: Chinese Spy Ship Monitoring RIMPAC Exercise, Again

July 13, 2018 2:52 PM - Updated: July 14, 2018 6:00 PM
An undated photo of Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) Tianwangxing (853).

A previous version of this post incorrectly stated a Chinese AGI monitored the RIMPAC exercise in 2016. In fact, the AGI in 2016 belonged to the Russian Navy.

A Chinese surveillance ship is operating off the coast of Hawaii to keep tabs on the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, a Navy official confirmed to USNI News on Friday.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) ship has been operating in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the coast of Hawaii since July 11, U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Charlie Brown told USNI News on Friday.

“We expect the ship will remain outside the territorial seas of the U.S. and not operate in a manner that disrupts ongoing RIMPAC exercise,” Brown said.
“We’ve taken all precautions necessary to protect our critical information. The ship’s presence has not affected the conduct of the exercise.”

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser first reported the presence of the AGI off Hawaii.

“It is very disappointing that the presence of a non-participating ship could disrupt the exercise,” Chilean Navy Commodore Pablo Niemann told the Star-Advertiser on Thursday.
“I hope and expect all seafarers to act professionally so we may continue to focus on the work at hand and building on the spirit of cooperation that gives purpose to this exercise.”

Australian media reported that a Chinese AGI tracked a Royal Australian Navy ship headed to RIMPAC. However, it is unclear if it was the same one currently off the Hawaiian islands.

USNI News understands the uninvited AGI off Hawaii is a Dongdiao-class, the same type of ship China has used to monitor the RIMPAC exercises in 2014. In 2016 a Russian AGI monitored the exercise from the Hawaiian EEZ.

The expected arrival of the AGI follows the late May revocation of the invitation of the PLAN from RIMPAC exercise.

In 2014 and 2016, the U.S. was fine with the Chinese and Russian ships operating in the vicinity in the of the exercise in compliance with the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention.

“We continue to uphold the principle of freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law,” Brown told USNI News.

The presence of the ship off of Hawaii can be used a tool to justify more U.S. presence operations closer to China, Andrew Erickson, a professor at the Naval War College, told USNI News on Friday.

“The U.S. shouldn’t let China have it both ways,” he said. “No matter what Beijing says or does, U.S. forces must continue to operate wherever international law permits, including in, under, and over the South China Sea—a vital part of the global maritime commons that is 1.5 times the size of the Mediterranean and contains substantial areas that no nation can legally claim for itself or restrict access to in any way.”

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.
Follow @samlagrone

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox