The chief of U.S. Navy operations says military-to-military relations with China are improving, following a recent incident between an American military ship and Chinese vessels in the South China Sea. The U.S. official is in China to take part in activities marking the 60th anniversary of China's navy.
Admiral Gary Roughead refrained from making any strong criticism of China when he met with reporters in Beijing Sunday.
He said he and Chinese Admiral Wu Shengli did discuss a March encounter between the U.S. military ship Impeccable and Chinese vessels. The U.S. side claims the Impeccable was operating in international waters. The Chinese side claims that the U.S. ship was in China's so-called Exclusive Economic Zone, and needed China's permission.
Roughead downplayed the apparent remaining differences of opinion on the legality of encounters that occur within China's Exclusive Economic Zone.
"I come back to the fact that, whereas we may have different interpretations of the operations in an EEZ, it is important that the interactions between our ships, regardless of whether they are navy or any other maritime agency, be professional, safe and do not jeopardize the well being of our sailors," said Roughead.
Roughead said he had what he described as a "good briefing" on the People's Liberation Army's Navy, in a meeting with the Chinese admiral Saturday. He also praised U.S.-China cooperation in counter-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia.
"I would say that if I had to characterize a topic that we spent more time on than anything else, it was the work that our two navies are doing in the counter-piracy mission," he said. "That is, obviously, very much in the forefront of both of our minds. And it is also the first time that we have operated together that far from China, and with a common real-world mission of counter-piracy."
The U.S. naval official said he is not surprised to see China's navy develop and modernize, along with the country's rapid economic growth. But he again repeated the Pentagon's concerns about transparency.
"We can look at the types of ships, and the types of airplanes, and the numbers of airplanes, and that's interesting and worthy of note, but it is how countries elect to use those capabilities, and what the purposes are that they say, and how they will use them, and how they will interact with other navies," he added.
Roughead did not directly answer questions as to whether U.S.-China military ties are definitely back to normal. But he stressed he and the Chinese admiral will have several opportunities over the next few days to deepen their discussions and talk about how to move relations forward.
The U.S. and Chinese admirals will share an airplane together Sunday, as they both head to the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao to take part in activities this week marking the PLA Navy's 60th anniversary.
Chinese media say 21 naval vessels from 14 countries, including the United States, Russia and South Korea, will join the event.