China Joins U.S. in Navy Exercises Amid Rising Tensions

WASHINGTON TIMES — A contingent of five Chinese warships is set to sail alongside U.S. and allied vessels when the world’s biggest maritime naval exercises kick off Thursday — despite rising tensions and occasional standoffs between Chinese and U.S. forces in the increasingly sharp struggle for dominance in the South China Sea.

The Chinese navy will be participating in the biennial Rim of the Pacific naval war games for only the second time ever.

Some see the move in what U.S. defense officials call RimPac 2016 as a long-awaited olive branch by Beijing to the U.S. and its regional allies, and others fear it is a calculated gesture to further reinforce aggressively sought gains in the South China Sea and elsewhere in the Pacific.

Adding to the political overtones of China’s participation will be a July 12 ruling, right in the middle of the exercises, by an international tribunal on a closely watched Philippine complaint about Beijing’s broad claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea, one of the world’s most strategic waterways.

China will join the United States and 25 other nations in the Rim of the Pacific naval war games, which are designed to improve combat coordination and cooperation among the Asia-Pacific’s maritime powers. They also have become the largest showcase of American naval power in the region.

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