Top U.S. and Chinese military officers have signed an agreement aimed at improving communication amid tensions over North Korea's missile program and China's controversial claims in the South China Sea.
Speaking in Beijing with Chinese General Fang Fenghui, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford said the two countries have "many difficult issues" to work through.
Tuesday's signing of the Joint Staff Dialogue Mechanism** opens the door for building trust and understanding between the two militaries, "but it will only be useful if it results in meaningful dialogue that reduces the risk of miscalculation — which is especially critical now due to growing North Korea provocations," a senior U.S. defense official told VOA on Tuesday.
The first talks to result from the agreement have been scheduled for November. U.S. and Chinese military leaders responsible for military strategy, plans and policy recommendations will take part in those discussions.
Tuesday's meeting was the highest-level meeting between the two countries' militaries since Fang and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met alongside President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in April.
On Wednesday, Dunford will travel to the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang to observe an exercise by the People's Liberation Army's Northern Theater Command. Fang said the visit could help increase mutual trust.
The Northern Theater Command is roughly 200 kilometers from the border with North Korea.
China has pushed the U.S. and North Korea to avoid actions and rhetoric that could worsen tensions on the Korean peninsula. Both China and the United States have stressed they do not want a war on the Korean peninsula and are participating in international sanctions against North Korea aimed at stopping Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
At the Pentagon on Tuesday, when asked about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's earlier threat to fire a missile near the U.S. territory of Guam, Mattis told reporters, "here in the Pentagon, we're part of the sentinel for our nation and we stand ready to defend our nation."
China began enforcing new sanctions against North Korea on Tuesday as punishment for its latest missile tests. North Korean imports banned in China now include seafood, coal and iron.
When it comes to the South China Sea, China and the U.S. strongly disagree on territorial claims in the sea's international waterways. China considers much of the sea its territory, overlapping with the territorial claims of other nations. The U.S. continues to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the area to dispute China's claims. Last week, the USS John S. McCain destroyer traveled within 22 kilometers of the artificial island Mischief Reef, some 250 kilometers west of Palawan island in the Philippines.
**In an earlier version of the story, VOA misnamed the agreement "Joint Strategic Dialogue Mechanism."