The Politics of Maritime Engagement

Both India and China have had strong strategic motives for taking part in RIMPAC this year.

RIMPAC and the Politics of Maritime Engagement

By Abhijit Singh

Almost three weeks ago, the world’s largest naval exercise got underway in the Pacific. RIMPAC, or the Rim of the Pacific exercise, is a U.S. Pacific fleet organized and administered biannual naval drill held off Hawaii, which brings together maritime forces of many Pacific nations. This year, 49 ships and six submarines from 23 nations are taking part in exercises that will last for a duration of over four weeks, spread over two separate sea and harbor exercise programs.

Unsurprisingly, it is China’s participation in the exercises that has attracted the most attention. Even though it is the first time the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA-N) has been invited to the exercises, the scale of its participation is considerable. With four of its premier maritime assets taking part in the exercises, including the destroyer Haikou and hospital ship Ark Peace, China is reportedly fielding the second largest contingent – a presence that belies the subdued image of a first time invitee. Needless to say, maritime observers have been surprised by the development, not least because the PLA-N is popularly perceived as the U.S. Navy’s chief adversary in the Pacific.

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