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RIMPAC maritime exercise seeks to ease China tensions

China will be participating in the exercise for the first time, sending a destroyer, a missile frigate and a hospital ship, among others. 

WASHINGTON: The US navy has dispatched 24 of its ships to Hawaii as it prepares for the world's largest international maritime exercise.

RIMPAC, or Rim of the Pacific, will involve 49 surface ships and six submarines from 23 countries, but the inclusion of one specific country is getting the most attention.

China will be participating in the exercise for the first time, sending a destroyer, a missile frigate and a hospital ship, among others.

But the engagement comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Make friends, not war - that's what RIMPAC 2014 is ostensibly all about for the US and China.

Experts say so-called 'mil to mil' ties between the two countries aren't as developed as they might be, and that lack of communication could lead to small crises blowing up into bigger ones unless the relationship improves.

Back in 2011, US President Barack Obama announced his so-called 'rebalancing' policy towards the Asia Pacific, which will see about 60 per cent of US naval capability in the region by 2020.

There's growing unease in the US about China's rapid military build-up.

Recently, the Defence Department claimed that Beijing under-reported its 2014 defence spending by about 20 per cent, and called on the country to be more open about its plans, especially regarding the territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas.

Beijing, on the other hand, accused Washington of hypocrisy, because the US defence budget dwarfs that of China.

The US has now accused Chinese spies of stealing military and commercial secrets from America - something China denies, saying it is in fact the victim of US espionage.

Just last month at the Shangri La Security Summit in Singapore, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel accused Beijing of 'destabilising' actions, while China's army deputy chief of staff said the Pentagon was 'stoking fires'.

So the relationship is certainly at a sticky moment right now, and it's unclear how much RIMPAC alone can do to repair the damage.

For now, as far as Washington is concerned, as well as bringing China to the table, the exercise will give US military officials a rare glimpse into what weapons Beijing might be developing. 

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