China-US relations

US Navy commander hails ‘constructive and candid’ talks with Chinese counterparts

  • Admiral John Richardson met senior figures from the PLA as part of a visit designed to reduce friction between the two sides
  • Recent months have seen increasing tension over the self-ruled island and China’s presence in the disputed South China Sea
PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 January, 2019, 7:34pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 January, 2019, 11:26pm

A senior US naval officer said that he had had a “constructive and candid” discussion with his Chinese counterpart as part of an effort to calm growing tensions between the two sides.

Admiral John Richardson, the US Chief of Naval Operations, tweeted after the meeting with Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong, the head of the PLA Navy, that the two sides were both committed to continuing their dialogue.

“Our two countries have many aligned interests and all countries benefit from a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific,” wrote Richardson.

The senior US navy commander also met Qiu Yanpeng, deputy commander of the Navy, on Sunday after he arrived in China for a three-day visit that include stops in Beijing and the eastern city of Nanjing, headquarters of the PLA Eastern Theatre Command.

Richardson will meet leaders from the Central Military Commission and Shen, with the goal of “continuing a results-oriented, risk reduction-focused dialogue” between the two militaries, the US navy said.

This is Richardson’s second visit to China since he began serving as Chief of Naval Operations in 2015.

His last visit in 2016 focused on frictions over the South China Sea.

Chinese military analysts said this week’s talks were likely to focus on the brewing conflict over Taiwan – one of the key concerns of the Eastern Theatre Command.

“It’s likely that they will talk more about the East China Sea as the US has put heavy emphasis on Taiwan,” said Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie. “The US has been paying much attention to the development of the Chinese navy and hopes to increase its control over Taiwan.”

Vietnam walks fine line with Beijing over South China Sea remarks

Under US President Donald Trump, the US has increased its support for the self-ruled island with renewed armed sales and upgraded contacts between officials, drawing repeated protests from Beijing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who sees unification with Taiwan central to his vision of Chinese national rejuvenation, said Beijing “will not promise to abandon the use of force” in an address earlier this month.

Relations between the two militaries have also deteriorated over China’s increasing military build-up in the contested South China Sea, where two warships came close to collision in September.

Shortly before the incident, Richardson and Shen met at the 2018 International Seapower Symposium, in Rhode Island.

But military talks were cancelled after Shen was “immediately recalled” by Beijing in a protest over Washington’s decision to impose sanctions on China’s defence procurement agency following the latter’s acquisition of military equipment from Russia.

In a statement released by the US Navy on Friday, Richardson said: “A routine exchange of views is essential, especially in times of friction, in order to reduce risk and avoid miscalculation.”

“Honest and frank dialogue can improve the relationship in constructive ways, help explore areas where we share common interests, and reduce risk while we work through our differences,” he said.

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An expert with PLA Academy of Military Science said Richardson’s visit could be seen as an opportunity for direct communications amid concerns within the Chinese military that former defence secretary James Mattis’s departure would cause greater uncertainty.

“Mattis was seen as a figure who is rational and provided assurance and stability in the two militaries’ relationship,” said the expert who is not allowed to speak to the media and requested anonymity.

“So [Richardson’s visit] is a good opportunity for both sides to get a sense of where the relationship is going after the change in leadership [on the US side].”