TOKYO - The US Marine Corps is bringing together foreign commanders from amphibious forces deployed mostly in the Asia-Pacific for a conference aimed at taking initial steps to integrate their operations, with China excluded from the event, according to officials and planning documents.
The effort centres 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 US 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 US official said on Tuesday that the Pentagon was considering sending US military aircraft and ships to assert freedom of navigation around the reefs.
Asked about China's exclusion, the Marine spokesman said US law prohibited military-to-military exchanges with China at such events.
US defence officials added that it was not unusual to exclude Chinese military personnel from participating in some training hosted by US forces.
China took part in US-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercises last year with more than 20 countries, but one defence official noted its participation was limited to things like humanitarian relief and search and rescue operations.
China's Defence Ministry had no immediate comment.
Amphibious forces specialise in launching maritime operations including beach landings from boats and helicopters and are often used to deliver and coordinate aid following natural disasters. The vast island-dotted and disaster-prone geography of Asia lends itself to such operations.
A key goal of the Hawaii meeting would be to lay the groundwork for multilateral amphibious exercises, including drills between participant nations, even without US involvement, the planning document said.