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U.S. to invite China to RIMPAC 2014

HONOLULU — For the first time, the U.S. intends to ask China to a send a ship to join the world’s largest maritime exercises in 2014.

The Navy will invite China to send a ship to the 2014 Rim of the Pacific exercises, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday.

China sent military observers in 1998, but has never sent a vessel.

Panetta said he discussed ways to extend cooperation between the two militaries during a meeting with China’s national defense minister, Gen. Liang Guanglie.

The defense secretary noted that China and the U.S. participated this week in an exercise to counter pirates in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen.

“To build on this positive momentum, I informed General Liang today that the United States Navy will invite China to send a ship to participate in RIMPAC 2014 exercise,” Panetta said in a transcript of the news conference.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet hosts the drills every two years.

This year, 22 countries participated, including Japan, Russia and South Korea. The exercises lasted over a month and included 25,000 sailors and other military personnel, 42 surface ships, six submarines and 200 aircraft.

It’s not clear what role China would play.

“There are a lot of details to work out in the next 18 months for all nations participating in RIMPAC 2014, including China,” Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Darryn James said in a statement.

Each nation has a chance to train for its objectives, and all participant objectives would be considered during planning, he said.

The exercises date back to 1971 and have expanded in recent years. Eight nations took part in 2006, 10 in 2008, and 14 two years ago.