Navy Leaders Meet Amidst South China Sea Friction
U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson met with People's Liberation Army (Navy) Commander Adm. Wu Shengli on July 18 at navy headquarters in Beijing. The goal of the engagement was to improve mutual understanding and encourage professional interaction between the two navies at a time when tensions are high in the South China Sea.
"I appreciate the opportunity to visit China and to meet with Adm. Shengli in person. There is no substitute for these types of face-to-face meetings," said Richardson. "My goal is to forge a relationship built on frankness and cooperation. Given the responsibilities that our navies have, we must work together and speak candidly - when we agree as well as when we have differing opinions."
"I am very happy to receive you here today," said Shengli. "We attach great importance to your visit. Your visit to China, at our invitation, shows how both sides put great priority on maritime issues."
The two leaders had frank and substantive conversations on the importance of operating safely, in accordance with international law, future opportunities for the two navies to engage and the South China Sea.
In the meeting, Wu said China would not stop building reefs and islands in the sea, state-owned Xinhua news agency reported, with that construction also a part of China's efforts to bolster its claims.
The visit, which has been in works for months, was Richardson's first visit to China as the chief of naval operations and his first in-person meeting with Shengli. Over the last year, the two admirals have held three discussions via video teleconference.
Freedom of navigation patrols may end in disaster
The meeting follows with a senior Chinese admiral saying that freedom of navigation patrols carried out by foreign navies in the South China Sea could end "in disaster."
China has refused to recognize the ruling by an arbitration court in The Hague that invalidated its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea, and did not take part in the proceedings brought by the Philippines.
It has reacted angrily to calls by Western countries and Japan for adherence to the decision.
China has repeatedly blamed the United States for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually.
China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have rival claims, of which China's is the largest.
The United States has conducted freedom of navigation patrols close to Chinese-held islands, to Beijing's anger, while China has been bolstering its military presence there.
Speaking behind closed doors at a forum in Beijing on Saturday evening, Sun Jianguo, an admiral and deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of the powerful Central Military Commission, said the freedom of navigation issue was bogus and one that certain countries repeatedly hyped up.
"When has freedom of navigation in the South China Sea ever been affected? It has not, whether in the past or now, and in the future there won't be a problem as long as nobody plays tricks," he said, according to a transcript of his comments.
China is the biggest beneficiary of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and won't let anybody damage it, Sun said.
"But China consistently opposes so-called military freedom of navigation, which brings with it a military threat and which challenges and disrespects the international law of the sea," Sun said.
"This kind of military freedom of navigation is damaging to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and it could even play out in a disastrous way," he added, without elaborating.
A U.S. Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States reserved the right to carry out freedom of navigation operations and the Chinese admiral's comments would not change that.
Sun also said the court case at The Hague must be used by China's armed forces to improve its capabilities "so that when push comes to shove, the military can play a decisive role in the last moment to defend our national sovereignty and interests".
Philippines Turns Down Dialogue Offer
The foreign minister of the Philippines said on Tuesday he had turned down a proposal from his Chinese counterpart to start bilateral talks on their South China Sea dispute on the condition that last week's arbitration ruling not be discussed.
"(China's foreign minister) had asked us to open ourselves for bilateral negotiations but outside, or (in) disregard of, the arbitral ruling," Perfecto Yasay said in an interview with ABS-CBN news channel, referring to the ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
"This is something I told him was not consistent with our constitution and our national interest."
Yasay said he met his counterpart on the sidelines of a summit of Asian and European leaders in Mongolia last week.
The first priority for the Philippines, he said, was negotiating the right of its fishermen to return to the Scarborough Shoal and the implementation of all other parts of the ruling would be handled one-by-one.