US Navy Chief Heading to China to Ease Tensions Over South China Sea

China on Sunday told other countries not to "deliberately stir up trouble" in the disputed South China Sea, while insisting it has no intention of militarizing the strategically vital area. (AP photo)
China on Sunday told other countries not to "deliberately stir up trouble" in the disputed South China Sea, while insisting it has no intention of militarizing the strategically vital area. (AP photo)

U.S. Navy Adm. John Richardson will make his first trip to China as chief of naval operations next week to ease tensions over South China Sea territorial disputes and also get a look at China's aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, the Navy said Thursday.

Richardson, a career submariner, during the July 17-20 trip will also head to China's submarine academy in Qingdao, homeport of China's North Sea Fleet, and meet for the first time with Adm. Wu Shengli, commander of naval forces in the People's Liberation Army.

"I have been looking forward to this trip and to meeting Admiral Wu for some time," Richardson said. "These are important times for our two navies and for maritime forces throughout the region. As we seek to learn from each other, there is no substitute for these types of face-to-face meetings."

The agenda for Richardson's meetings will include discussions on the South China Sea, the ongoing Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises off Hawaii and the southern California coast, and future opportunities for the two navies to operate together, the Navy said.

The Liaoning, a Soviet-era Russian ship that China bought from Ukraine in 1998, was rebuilt in Chinese shipyards and commissioned in 2012. China has plans for three more short takeoff but arrested recovery (STOBAR) carriers in the effort to become a "blue water navy" with global reach.

Richardson's China visit will come a week after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued a stark ruling against China's wide-ranging territorial claims in the South China Sea and its construction of artificial islands.

However, the court has no method of enforcing its ruling and China on Thursday undertook a series of actions to show its defiance of the ruling in the case brought by the Philippines.

Two Chinese aircraft landed on disputed reefs in the South China Sea and Beijing's coast guard reportedly blocked a Filipino boat from a contested shoal. China's state media also said that the country had completed construction of four lighthouses on disputed reefs and was beginning to build a fifth.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims in the South China Sea which conflict with China's so-called "nine-dash line" on maps encompassing nearly all of the South China Sea.

In addition, China challenged the legitimacy of the court and its ruling. A commentary in the official news agency Xinhua said that the tribunal "in the South China Sea arbitration is nothing but a puppet tribunal established at the unilateral request of the former Philippine government, and its so-called ‘award' by no means represents international law."

The U.S. has called for calm and renewed diplomacy while suggesting that the various claimants in the South China Sea consider negotiations on joint development of the region's fish and mineral resources.

"We are trying to encourage them to use this decision (by the tribunal) as the basis for discussion and potentially basis for agreement on exploring things like joint development," a senior State Department official said on background Tuesday.

--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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