US Marines look to nurture integrated Asia-Pacific amphibious forces, China excluded

The U.S. Marine Corps is bringing together foreign commanders from amphibious forces deployed mostly in the Asia-Pacific for a conference aimed at taking steps to integrate operations, with China excluded from the event, according to officials and planning documents.

The effort centers on a first-of-its-kind conference between the Marine Corps and military officials from 23 countries that opens in Hawaii on Monday. More than half the nations attending are from Asia, including some embroiled in territorial disputes with China such as Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

On the agenda will be amphibious assault tactics, including ship-to-shore assaults, and a demonstration of shore landing tactics, said a USMC spokesman in Hawaii.

A planning document prepared by a consultant to the U.S. military and reviewed by Reuters notes that China should "not be invited" because it's a "competitor" to the United States and some of the countries attending.

Washington has grown increasingly critical of China's assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea, especially its land reclamation around seven reefs in the Spratly chain. Satellite images show at least one airstrip under construction.

A U.S. official said on May 12 that the Pentagon was considering sending U.S military aircraft and ships to assert freedom of navigation around the reefs.

Asked about China's exclusion, the Marine spokesman said U.S. law prohibited military-to-military exchanges with China at such events.

U.S. defense officials added that it was not unusual to exclude Chinese military personnel from participating in some training hosted by U.S. forces.

China took part in U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercises last year with more than 20 countries, but one defense official noted its participation was limited to things like humanitarian relief and search and rescue operations.

China's Defence Ministry had no immediate comment.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that any country had the right to invite who it wanted to a meeting or event, as long as it was beneficial for maintaining regional peace and stability.

"The militaries of China and the United States have normal exchanges and cooperation on various levels," Hua told a daily news briefing.
Reuters