The US naval chief said on Monday that the US and Chinese navies are engaged in “continuous dialogues” to reduce the risk of a military miscalculation in the South China Sea, Trend reports referring to South China Morning Post.
Admiral John Richardson told an audience at the Washington-based Brookings Institute that the interchanges between the two navies aim to build communication to avoid a potentially disastrous blunder. The discussions are a positive sign that China and the US are moving forward with a plan to reduce tensions in the disputed waters.
Concerns about the chances of an incident at sea occurring grew in September after a PLA Navy ship nearly collided with an American destroyer, the Decatur, which sailed near an islet claimed by Beijing in the Spratly archipelago, known in China as the Nansha Islands.
The Chinese ship came within 41 metres (135 feet) of the US vessel, leading the Pentagon to accuse the PLA Navy of conducting an aggressively “unsafe and unprofessional manoeuvre”.
“Let’s not make it difficult for one another by manoeuvring in front of one another like that,” Richardson said at the Brookings event. Such unplanned encounters at sea are “going to happen more frequently as the PLA grows and becomes more operational”, he said.
Richardson, who concluded his second visit to China as the US Chief of Naval Operations in mid-January, said a reliable communication mechanism needs to be in place. “If something should happen, we can call each other up and de-escalate that before it gets too hot,” he said.
Speaking positively of his “good working relationship” with his Chinese counterpart and the People’s Liberation Army, Richardson said he had a “rich visit” to China and the two sides “continue to meet and communicate” to “get a better understanding of each other’s intent”.
But he stressed the two naval forces have disagreements. “Our understanding of the South China Sea and those sorts of things are just at odds right now,” he said, without elaborating.
Washington frequently conducts free-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea to challenge Beijing’s sovereignty claims in the region. Beijing has long opposed US military aircraft flying over and warships sailing near the area.
The dispute has intensified in recent years with the US accusing China of militarising the contested waters by establishing man-made outposts armed with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles.
“As we navigate and resolve those differences,” Richardson said, “we’ve got to do so in a way that minimises risk.”