U.S., China naval ties said on track despite South China Sea tensions

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 28, 2015 1:53 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and China agreed on Thursday to maintain dialogue and stick to established military protocols to avoid misunderstandings when their naval forces operate in close proximity, according to a U.S. defense official.

U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson and his Chinese counterpart, Admiral Wu Shengli, spoke for over an hour via video conference after the U.S. Navy's patrol this week near a man-made island in the South China Sea prompted a sharp rebuke from China.

The two officers discussed the recent U.S. patrols, the relationship between the two navies, and pending port visits and planned trips by senior leaders, according to a spokesman for Richardson.

Scheduled port visits by U.S. and Chinese ships in November and December, and planned visits to China by senior U.S. Navy officers in coming weeks remained on track, said the U.S. official.

"None of that is in jeopardy. Nothing has been canceled," said the official.

Several Chinese warships are still scheduled to visit the U.S. naval station in Mayport, Florida next month, with sailors from both nations to participate in sporting events and ship tours. Chinese ships are also expected to visit Peal Harbor, Hawaii.

Plans by U.S. Pacific Command commander Admiral Harry Harris and Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, to visit China also remain on track, as do port visits by several U.S. ships in China in November and December, the official said.

Both officers agreed on the need to stick to protocols established under the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea.

"They agreed that it's very important that both sides continue to use the protocols under the CUES agreement when they're operating close to keep the chances for misunderstanding and any kind of provocation from occurring," said the official.

The U.S. Navy spokesman underscored that U.S. freedom of navigation operations were meant to "protect the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law."

Such operations were not a challenge to the sovereignty of land features, the spokesman said, adding, "The United States takes no position on competing sovereignty claims to land features in the South China Sea."

Former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jon Greenert held the first video conference with Wu in April, followed by a second call in August that included both Greenert and Richardson, who succeeded Greenert as the Navy's top uniformed officer in September.

Richardson and Wu agreed to speak again via video teleconference later this year.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Tom Brown)