Chinese ships depart for rare drills with US Navy

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Chinese Minister of Defense Gen. Chang Wanquan speaks during a joint news conference with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013. In his first Pentagon meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Hagel faces a familiar agenda marked with tensions over U.S. missile defenses, Chinese cyberattacks and other defense issues. AP/Evan Vucci

BEIJING — Ships from China’s navy have departed for rare search and rescue drills with the U.S. as Beijing ramps up its military diplomacy.

The three Chinese ships left the port of Qingdao on Tuesday for waters off Hawaii. During the cruise, they will also travel to Australia and New Zealand for similar exercises.

Deputy navy commander Xu Hongmeng was quoted by newspapers on Wednesday as calling the exercises an “important mission of military diplomacy.”

The ships’ departure came during a visit to the U.S. by Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan, during which he and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke hopefully of building greater trust through expanded military cooperation.

China’s navy will participate for the first time next year in a major international maritime exercise known as Rim of the Pacific.

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