The US and Chinese navies are engaged in “continuous dialogue” to reduce the risk of a military miscalculation in the South China Sea, according to the US naval operations chief. Addressing the Washington-based Brookings Institution on Monday, Admiral John Richardson said the dialogue was to open communication to avoid a potentially disastrous blunder. The discussions were a positive sign that China and the US were moving forward with a plan to reduce tensions in the disputed waters. Concerns about the risk of an incident at sea grew in September after a People’s Liberation Army Navy ship nearly collided with an American destroyer, the Decatur, sailing 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, prompting 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. Such unplanned encounters at sea were “going to happen more frequently as the PLA grows and becomes more operational”, he said. Richardson, who visited China for a second time as the US chief of naval operations in mid-January, said a reliable communication mechanism needed 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. South China Sea clash is biggest worry for Philippine firms Speaking of his “good working relationship” with his Chinese counterpart and the PLA, 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 forces had 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 artificial 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.” Richardson appealed to the PLA Navy to comply with the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, an agreement signed by 21 countries, including the US and China, at the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium to reduce the chances of an incident at sea. US admiral sets sail for four-day talks with China’s top military brass The US admiral said the agreement had to apply to all maritime forces, including the navies and coastguards. Washington and Beijing reaffirmed the importance of improving communication to reduce the risk of a US-China military misunderstanding during the US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington in November. James Mattis, then the US secretary of defence, said after the dialogue that “the United States is committed to finalising a military-to-military crisis deconfliction and communication framework with China”. The Pentagon has not yet responded to a request for input on the development of the framework.