The Rim of the Pacific Exercise recently concluded in waters near Hawaii. For the first time China joined the drills. It was a small but positive step for integrating Beijing into more international institutions.
RIMPAC started in 1971. This year there are 23 participants, including the People’s Republic of China, which explained that the maneuvers are “an important mission of military diplomacy” and a means to strengthen “friendly relations with countries of the South Pacific through public diplomacy.”
Beijing’s participation comes at a time of significant regional tension. The PRC’s more aggressive stance in asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea and Sea of Japan have led to dangerous maritime confrontations.
RIMPAC offers an opportunity to create some countervailing pressure in favor of a less threatening regional naval environment. At the political level inviting Beijing to participate demonstrates respect for China’s increased military power and international role. Doing so also counters the charge that Washington is seeking to isolate and contain the PRC.
Moreover, inclusion hints at the benefits for Beijing of a civil if not necessarily friendly relationship with its neighbors as well as America. No doubt, the direct pay-off for China from RIMPAC is small.
But to be treated as an equal and regular participant in international affairs is advantageous. Although any great power must be prepared to accept unpopularity when necessary, in general a friendly environment is more conducive to ensuring both peace and prosperity.