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China-US relations

Top PLA Navy commander will accompany Chinese defence minister on trip to US

Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong and Defence Minister Wei Fenghe will visit Washington after an invitation from the US defence secretary

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 August, 2018, 1:09am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 August, 2018, 11:09pm

China’s naval chief will join his defence minister’s trip to Washington later this year, in a sign that the two nations' militaries are willing to communicate despite rising tensions over the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait.

Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong, the People’s Liberation Army Navy commander, will accompany Defence Minister Wei Fenghe on the visit, the Chinese ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, said on Monday at an embassy event in Washington celebrating the anniversary of the PLA’s founding.

Shen, the former commander of China’s South Sea Fleet, and his US counterpart, Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations and former head of the US Navy’s submarine force, spoke for an hour via a video teleconference in July 2017, when Richardson asked Shen to exert influence on North Korea to rein in its advancing nuclear and missile programmes.

Shen’s participation in the coming trip had not been made public until Cui’s announcement.

A US Defence Department spokesman on Wednesday declined to provide details of the visit, including its date, saying the Pentagon would not do so until closer to the meeting.

US military chief’s visit to Beijing did little to soothe tensions

Earlier this year, the PLA ground forces commander, General Han Weiguo, visited the US, and US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis visited Beijing in late June.

“During the visits, the leadership of the two militaries reached important agreements on increasing military mutual trust, deepening practical cooperation and managing risks and challenges,” Cui said.

During his trip to Beijing, Mattis invited his Chinese counterpart to the United States. China’s Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian later confirmed that the defence minister had accepted and would visit the US sometime this year.

Beijing says US ‘playing Taiwan card’ after warships sail through strait

Cui continued, “The two sides will work together to make the pie of shared interests even bigger and steer to the direction of mutual respect and win-win cooperation, with a view to making the military-to-military relationship a stabiliser in the bilateral relations.”

Tensions between the two militaries grew after the US, in May, revoked China’s invitation to participate in multinational military exercises this summer in the Pacific. The move was described as “an initial response” to what the Pentagon called “China’s continued militarisation of the South China Sea”.

In early July, the US Navy sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait as they passed from the East China Sea to the South China Sea. In response, China accused the US of “playing the Taiwan card” in the two countries’ escalating trade dispute.

The two militaries, however, have been keeping their communication channels open.

Randall Schriver, a US assistant secretary of defence, told a Heritage Foundation event on July 18 that it was “possible” for the US and China to hold a round of “2+2” dialogue this fall, which would be conducted among the two sides’ defence and foreign ministers.

“The nature of our relationship right now is characterised more by the competitive aspect than the cooperative aspect,” Schriver said.

“But we are certainly open to grow the cooperative aspects over time,” he added. “We are certainly interested in working with the Chinese to find those areas of alignment where it exists and building those out.”