Home » Foreign Forces » China » Navy: Chinese Spy Ship Monitoring RIMPAC Exercise, Again


Navy: Chinese Spy Ship Monitoring RIMPAC Exercise, Again

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.”

  • DaSaint

    C’est la vie!

  • Duane

    The difference is we don’t mount formal diplomatic rants or make threats when the Chinese sail close to us. The only points we and fellow exercise participants make for uninvited ships is to stay out of our way/don’t disrupt our exercise or operate unsafely.

    • .Hugo.

      you could not do that, as innocent passage has been allowed in unclos, while there is no definition of “freedom of navigation” in it.
      .
      as for the exercise, don’t tell me the u.s. has no observation ships operating close to the chinese fleet.

      • TomD

        1) As the article states, no one is objecting to being observed at RIMPAC. If China participated this year her sailors would have even better observations, from the inside

        2) You are hairsplitting again, “freedom of navigation” is the legal principle behind the legal language “innocent passage”. Again, for all practical purposes they are the same. “Innocent passage” just happens to be more precise (it excludes belligerents) and inclusive of motives.

        3) Your comment ignores the point that the U.S. recognizes that Chinese observation of RIMPAC is entirely consistent with the U.S. position on innocent passage in the South China Sea, since the U.S. recognizes the Chinese RIMPAC observations to be innocent under international law

        • .Hugo.

          1. when china participated, it was only allowed to participate in the less critical programs which it could always practice by itself. so no, its sailors won’t be better off to observe anything from the inside, for those are things they already knew and mastered.
          .
          2. innocent passage is the legal principal defined and supported by an international convention, freedom of navigation is not. fon is just a domestic u.s. concept.
          .
          3. in my comment, i have not ignored anything. the subject in this particular thread is about “the u.s. could not mount formal diplomatic rants or make threats when the chinese sail close (to the alaskan coast i assume?)”, then my answer was “the u.s. could not do that in the first place” under the only definitive international law — unclos.
          .

          .

          • SDW

            You get poor marks for your studies in maritime law. The UNCLOS is not the only binding source of international maritime law. I understand that you don’t have access to all (or even most) of the on-line sources I could cite.

            Innocent Passage refers to passage through archipelagic, contiguous, and territorial waters/seas. The most common occasions are transit through straits and “cutting a corner” past points and capes. By custom, innocence is demonstrated by actions such as not activating a fire control or an active air search radar, pointing gun turrets fore and aft, no missiles on launchers, not streaming a sonar tail, and, basically, acting like a merchant ship maintaining a straight course.

            Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) is a term used by the US Navy to describe sailing in a place and manner that we claim is legal for everyone but may be disputed by one or more nations. This must be done from time-to-time to avoid a de facto recognition of claims we assert to be illegal. (This is rather like the legal doctrine of adverse possession.) Sometimes FONOPS are about innocent passage and sometimes about a claim of territorial seas such as around a shoal or other rocks unable to support habitation.

            .HUGO. often claims that an EEZ is synonymous with a territorial or contiguous sea but that is far off the mark. An EEZ can be regulated but the scope of that regulation is limited (mostly to poaching and pollution).

          • .Hugo.

            of course there is more than one source of maritime law, but just which one are you referring to which can override unclos?
            .
            have you checked the route of the chinese navy when sailing through the alaskan coast? it entered the 12 n.m. u.s. territorial waters, and has the chinese navy activated its sensors, guns, and missiles when sailing through u.s. territorial waters? guess not. that’s why the u.s. could not protest.
            .
            as with fonops, no one can really defend it as it is only a u.s. self-made definition which has gained no international recognition. fonops is NEVER innocent passage, it is always conducted as a military mission by a military vessel. i.e. might is right.
            .
            i have not mixed eez with international waters, i have always emphasized 12 n.m. of territorial waters and 200 n.m. eez, and there are specific rules on eez which are not only poaching and pollution. 🙂
            .

          • TomD

            1) Got a link to an unbiased source? – I’m interested.

            2) You are being obtuse again

            3) Of course, but you are being hypocritical again by not applying the same legal facts to China and the South China Sea.

          • .Hugo.

            glad to see that our friend here has to hide my reply as it is too powerful for him to handle.
            .
            1. care to define ‘unbiased’ source? e.g. non u.s. and non chinese? then what is ‘chinese’? does it cover the taiwan province and all overseas chinese med!a?
            .
            let’s hope you will consider bbc as ‘unbiased’ then:
            bbcDOTcom/zhongwen/trad/china/
            2014/06/140609_china_us_exercise_analysis
            .
            (original text)
            “中國海軍新聞發言人梁陽宣佈,中國海軍參加此次環太軍演,將進行編隊隊形變換、通信操演、吊放小艇、佔領陣位、海上補給、應急情況處置、輕武器及主炮對海射擊等科目訓練。”
            .
            (google translate)
            “Liang Yang, spokesman of the Chinese Navy, announced that the Chinese navy will participate in the military performance of the ring, and will carry out formation formation, communication exercises, hoisting of boats, occupation of positions, maritime replenishment, emergency response, light weapons and main guns on the sea. Subject training such as shooting.”
            .
            so care to tell us which area the pla navy cannot practice for itself, or has been practiced with other navies in other exercises?
            .
            let’s read further:
            “劉鳴認為,參加軍事演習是分級別的。美國讓中國參加的此次演習中,核心的軍事演習中國並不能參加,中國實際上是處於外圍。”
            .
            “Liu Ming believes that participating in military exercises is divided into levels. In the exercise that the United States allowed China to participate in, the core military exercises in China could not participate, and China was actually on the periphery.”
            .
            .
            very clear now.
            .
            2. sure, especially when you could not really refute.
            .
            3. i am simply following the thread. how about you?

          • TomD

            1) Thank you, it’s not strictly unbiased but I’ll take it with a gain of salt.

            “so care to tell us which area the pla navy cannot practice for itself, or has been practiced with other navies in other exercises?”

            Well, remember, the point of joint exercises is to support joint operations. The U.S. invited China to an exercise because there is the possibility that China may participate in joint operations in the future, possibly even in a leadership role.

            2) I don’t need to refute a flawed refutation.

            3) Yep.

          • .Hugo.

            1. the u.s. navy has separate drills on similar areas with different navies, including the pla navy, so has the pla navy with other navies. so if that’s all rimpac is going to offer to china, there is really not much value for china to participate.
            .
            2. there is nothing flawed, it’s all factual. that’s why i say you can’t refute facts.
            .
            3. the exercise area is the high seas, so i don’t think you are following.
            .

          • TomD

            “3. the exercise area is the high seas, so i don’t think you are following.”

            Ah, yes, but it is in the U.S. EEZ. You constantly scream when U.S. Navy ships sail through China’s EEZ in the South China Sea. So you are the one who isn’t following the fact that the U.S. position is consistent with innocent passage.

          • .Hugo.

            technically the u.s. has no eez rights, it has refused to sign on unclos to enjoy the rights. without proper treaty backing, the u.s. is just using blunt force to grab unclos rights.
            .
            also you have forgotten to mention that the scs is not the high seas but other signatories’ eez, and unclos requires vessels sailing through the eez to observe the relevant maritime law of the owner state, the u.s. has no such regulation doesn’t mean it is free to not follow china’s.
            .
            .

          • TomD

            Your ‘technically’ is a fabrication, since the U.S. has acceded to UNCLOS with regards to all EEZ sections. International law does not require ratification for participation.

          • .Hugo.

            the u.s. has not signed on unclos, there is no such thing as “acceded to unclos”.
            .
            unclos is a convention which countries will become signatories, the u.s. has not done that.
            .

          • TomD

            ‘there is no such thing as “acceded to unclos”‘

            Yes there is

          • .Hugo.

            let’s read from another pro-japan/u.s. website:
            .
            thediplomatDOTcom/2017/05/u-s-ratification-of-the-law-of-the-sea-convention/
            .
            “On November 16, 1994, UNCLOS entered into force, but without accession by the United States. The 1994 Agreement entered into force on July 28, 1996, also without U.S. ratification. To date, the treaty remains one of forty-five treaties (one dating back to 1945) awaiting Senate action – once referred to as the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”
            .
            so what “acceded to unclos” are you talking about?

          • SDW

            UNCLOS took effect when the 60th nation ratified it. There are now 160+ parties. The US is not one but has officially recognized (Reagan, Statement on United States Ocean Policy, 10 Mar 1983) that UNCLOS III, except for Part XI, “generally confirm[s] existing maritime law and practice and fairly balance the interests of all states” and the US would accept and act in accordance with the rest of UNCLOS. Not being a party to the convention in toto doesn’t change the rights and responsibilities of nations that are a party nor does it exclude the US from filing a case or claim that another country is not acting legally under UNCLOS or other treaties and custom included implicitly or explicitly (by reference) in it.

            According to international law including the UNCLOS (Part V) an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) allows the coastal state to regulate the exploring, exploiting, conserving, and managing of natural resources within. It is not a carte blanche to decide what other countries may or may not do within those waters. (See Articles 56 and 58.) Sovereign immunity also comes in. Part VI of the Convention relates to the continental shelf and, basically, extends the EEZ. China claims the right to regulate activity in the EEZ unrelated to bona fide concerns about natural resources. The US does not agree and neither party seems likely to change that position anytime soon.

            Quibbling about the use of the term “Freedom of Navigation Operations” is pointless. In UNCLOS (Part III, Section 1, Article 36, Part V Article 58, and Part VII, Section 1, Article 87) the words “freedom[s] of navigation” occur. There are others in UNCLOS and other international legal documents going back more than a century. It is simply a way to express the principle that a nation may have navigational rights that another nation may not restrict.

          • .Hugo.

            again, our usual friend here has kept trying to hide my reply which is too valid to be refuted. 🙂
            .
            recognizing and signing on a treaty are two different things, the former gives no treaty rights.
            .
            without formal treaty rights, i don’t see how you can defend the u.s. claim when it has refused to sign on unclos but still wants to enjoy its rights. 😀
            .
            sure the term “freedom of navigation” has appeared in unclos but not as an unclos term, let’s check your claim:
            .
            article 36:
            that’s about strait transit, the scs where the u.s. has conducted fonops is not a strait.
            .
            article 58:
            NO MENTION OF FONOPS (U.S. VERSION) AT ALL.
            .
            article 87:
            that’s about the high seas, the scs where the u.s. has conducted fonops is not the high seas.
            .
            .
            indeed, the entire unclos has no definition of “freedom of navigation operations” at all. and when sailing through other country’s eez, the vessel has to observe both unclos rules and the relevant laws of the coastal state.
            .
            article 58.3:
            In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.
            .
            .
            just which other “international laws” are you really talking about which can supersede unclos? maybe you have to make it “pointless” when unclos has given no advantage to the u.s. to defend fonops instead? 😀

          • Marcd30319

            And the right of warships to operate on the high seas.

          • .Hugo.

            thanks for confirming china’s right to monitor the exercise then, while the scs is never the high seas. 🙂
            .

          • Marcd30319

            And China was dis-invited to this year’s RIMPAC because the South China Sea and East China Sea.

          • .Hugo.

            and the u.s. cannot stop china from enhancing its facilities in its south china sea territory to protect its sovereignty and interest too, even by disinviting china from low level only rimpac programs.
            .

      • The_Usual_Suspect61

        The United States is not a signatory to UNCLOS.

        • .Hugo.

          but the u.s. still says it adheres to it and wants to enjoy its rights.
          .
          also china plus most scs states are signatories, the u.s. cannot set rules by itself and force the others to follow.
          .

          • SDW

            So glad you have come to understand that. If the US should ever try to impose rules unlawful with respect to the UNCLOS and other, binding agreements I would hope that the PRC would file an action before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). The PLAN behavior during RIMPAC will do a lot towards helping nations around the globe understand their rights and responsibilities under international law.

          • .Hugo.

            there is no such need to go to itlos when the u.s. is technically outside of its legal framework. the u.s. is known to not observe icj ruling against it in the past too.
            .
            every navy in the world capable enough can follow what the u.s. and china are doing on each other, it is just a game of cat and mouse. 🙂
            .

          • Marcd30319

            Just as the US Navy conducts its freedom of navigation (FON) operations in the South China Seas!

          • .Hugo.

            and that is the u.s. navy’s own fonops only, when unclos has no such definition.
            .
            the scs is either territorial waters or eez (most part) of all scs states which are unclos signatories, while the u.s. is not.
            .

          • Marcd30319

            Just as the US Navy when it conducts its freedom of navigation (FON) operations in the South China Seas!

        • SDW

          The US signed the UNCLOS of 1958. The sections of the UNCLOS that apply to the high seas remains the same. The most notable change from 1958 to 1982 was the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which has no bearing, for example, on military activity.

          • .Hugo.

            the u.s. has refused to sign on unclos iii, which has replaced unclos i.
            .
            article 311.1, unclos iii:
            This Convention shall prevail, as between States Parties, over the Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea of 29 April 1958.
            .
            and eez is an unclos iii concept. military activity inside other signatory’s eez is regulated by the signatory’s local maritime laws.
            .

      • SDW

        Quite right. The term Freedom of Navigation Operations is a US term. How they are done is completely compliant with UNCLOS (1958 and 1982). That the word “freedom” is touchy for our Chinese friends is no fault of ours.

        • .Hugo.

          non-civilian actions performed well inside the eez of an unclos signatory is not unclos compliant. of course the u.s. does not have to observe it as it has refused to sign on unclos.
          .
          by the way, unclos iii has long replaced unclos i.
          .
          if “freedom” is touchy for china, then “innocent” is even more for our american friends.

  • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

    Seems like aiming a radar at them at 25 kw or more would be a worthy task? We used to light up trailing Soviet subs that surfaced that way.

    • BBMW

      I thought of this also. Put a “trawler” of our own between the Russian or Chinese intel ships and the exercise, with a set of powerful, higly directional, broadband emitters that would drown out anything useful the intel ships might pick up.

      • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

        Used to be the norm. May be, I don’t know.

    • Matthew W. Hall

      Who’s “we”?

  • Ed L

    What are those guns 30mm?

    • .Hugo.

      25 mm x 2, 37 mm x 1.
      .
      this is the same ship which has monitored rimpac 2014.

  • jack anderson

    nice of them to send us a target to play with

    • .Hugo.

      and you have also provided many targets for it to track and analyse. 🙂
      .

      • jack anderson

        yes indeedy, ELINT for everyone!

  • Mark Burns

    Turn up the power and fry all the electronics on board.

  • proudrino

    It wouldn’t be RIMPAC without AGIs shadowing operations. Besides, freedom of navigation works both ways.

    • muzzleloader

      Agreed. Back in the day it would not have been a westpac without a Soviet AGI or DD off the horizen, along with a TU-16 badger or an IL-38 flying near the CVG.

    • SDW

      How about one or more of the participating captains inviting the PLAN captain over for tea?

    • .Hugo.

      it’s the high seas, china is free to operate its navy there.
      .
      warships on the high seas have complete immunity from the jurisdiction of any state other than the flag state.
      .

  • SDW

    I’ve always considered a troll as one that tries to hide or disguise himself as an actual person with something to say. Then there are the trolls that whose maturity plateaued at puberty or are just being obtuse. “.HUGO.” may be someone that believes himself the first or last line of defense against the decadent West but simple linguistic analysis indicate parts and some whole posts as being written by more than one person. Lets call it liberal use of quotations. (Frankly, if people are paying one or more persons for those posts they are overspending regardless of the amount.)

    • .Hugo.

      using your own knowledge level to make such judgement is rather amusing.
      .
      and good to know that you too have to resort to the old ‘paid troll’ excuse. 🙂
      .

      • SDW

        Dear .HUGO., I haven’t been able to parse your first sentence or understand to what you are referring. As for the second, I don’t think you are paid to repeat the official statements. Paid trolls are usually much better at it. I am not among those that would “ban” you or say silly things like firing on PLAN ships rightfully sailing through the Aleutians. (I hope they had good weather as the Aleutians are beautiful even though you’d have to be crazy to try to live there all year.)

        All I ask is that you try to move past a reflexive response anytime someone has something even slightly negative to say about the PRC leadership and the Party. After all, those of us with enough interest already read the releases from Xinhua.

        • .Hugo.

          never mind, i can understand your need for saying that.
          .
          when it is repetitive from you side, it will of course be reflexive from mine.
          .
          i don’t quite think that you actually read from xinhua either, at least i don’t. 🙂
          .
          by the way, it’s not the prc leadership or the party that is of my concern, it’s the dignity of the chinese civilization itself and its rightful place in the world stage not dictated by the west.

        • Marcd30319

          So sad! Well, not really – more pathetic, actually!