HONOLULU - More than one month of naval maneuvers involving the militaries of 22 nations kicked off in Hawaii on Thursday. For the first time, China has sent vessels to participate in the Rim of the Pacific drills that the U.S. Pacific Fleet hosts every two years.
Thailand was initially among 23 nations expected to send units to Hawaii for the world's largest maritime exercises, but it's no longer doing so after its military orchestrated a coup last month. The Obama administration suspended various assistance and military exercises after a junta took power May 22.
The exercises will include disaster-relief training as well practice countering pirates, clearing mines, landing amphibious ships and searching for submarines.
Some ships started their training en route.
Nine ships from Brunei, China, Singapore and the U.S. sailed together from Guam to Pearl Harbor. Capt. Patrick Kelly, the commander of USS Chosin, said the ships practiced communications, maneuvering and weapons-firing drills. They also held personnel exchanges. Brunei is participating in the drills for the first time.
China sent four ships, two helicopters, a commando unit and a diving team to Hawaii along with 1,100 Chinese officers and sailors.
A Chinese oiler, frigate and destroyer are expected to join a maritime interdiction operations task force drill. The hospital ship Peace Ark will participate in medical exchanges with other participants.
China sent military observers to watch RIMPAC drills in 1998, but it has never sent ships before.
The exercises began in 1971. 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.