HONOLULU (AP) — China plans to bring four ships to Hawaii this summer as its vessels participate in the world’s largest naval exercises for the first time.
China is expected to bring the Peace Ark, a navy hospital ship, as well as an oiler, a frigate and a destroyer, said Lt. Lenaya Rotklein, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Third Fleet, which is organizing the Rim of the Pacific exercises.
The drills are scheduled to begin on June 26 and last through Aug. 1.
The U.S. hosts the exercises, which are also known as RIMPAC, every other year. They began in 1971 and have since grown to become the world’s largest maritime exercises.
Twenty-three countries are expected to participate this year, including Canada, India, Japan and South Korea.
The Peace Ark will participate in medical exchanges with other participants, Rotklein said. The oiler, the frigate and the destroyer are expected to join a maritime interdiction operations task force.
The scenario for the exercise involves four fictitious countries — one of which is an aggressor — in an island region, she said.
Most of the drills will take place in and around the Hawaiian Islands. As in 2012, a small part of it will take place off Southern California, Rotklein said.
China sent military observers to watch the drills in 1998, but it has never sent ships before.
Chinese and U.S. naval vessels have only rarely exercised together in the past. Last year, China sent a guided missile cruiser, a frigate and a supply ship to Hawaii for a search-and-rescue exercise with the U.S.
The U.S. values such opportunities in part so the Navy and China’s fast-growing naval forces will learn to understand each other better and avert misunderstandings.
Last December, a U.S. Navy cruiser, the USS Cowpens, nearly collided with a ship accompanying China’s sole aircraft carrier in international waters of the South China Sea. The U.S. Navy said the Cowpens maneuvered to avoid crashing into the Chinese ship, in the two nations’ most serious sea confrontation in years.
Earlier this month, the U.S., China and two dozen Asia-Pacific nations adopted an agreement to improve communication at sea to reduce the possibility of incidents like that one and misunderstandings that could lead to conflict in the heavily trafficked sea lanes surrounding China, Japan and Southeast Asia.