China’s top general arrived at Naval Base San Diego Tuesday to be welcomed aboard two warships ahead of meetings later this week with Gen. Martin Dempsey on rising tensions in the South China Sea over Beijing’s territorial claims.
The Navy was returning a courtesy in allowing Fang to tour the Reagan. In April, the Chinese permitted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to tour the Liaoning, a converted Russian warship that's China’s only carrier.
Fang also was scheduled to visit the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego before heading to the Pentagon Thursday for talks with his counterpart Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The visit of Fang, a member of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, came a month before the start of the annual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercises off Hawaii.
China is set to participate for the first time in the world’s largest international maritime exercise and plans on sending a destroyer, a frigate, an oiler and a hospital ship.
The Fang visit also comes as China aggressively pursues its territorial claims in the South China and East China seas against counter-claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and other regional neighbors. Chinese officials have accused the U.S. of stirring up unrest among its allies.
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “There is indeed a country taking provocative actions in the South China Sea, but this country is not China,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.
“The U.S.’ mistaken comments have encouraged dangerous and provocative actions,” Hua said. “We expect the U.S. to reflect on its acts.”
The immediate flash point was China’s recent action in moving a huge oil rig between Vietnam’s coastline and a string of disputed islands. Vietnam has charged that one of its Coast Guard ships was driven off as it approached the rig by Chinese ships firing water cannons.
China also has a long-running dispute with Japan over East China Sea islands that Japan calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu.
Pentagon officials suggested said that Dempsey would seek to avoid the territorial disputes and focus on better military-to-military relations with China in his talks with Fang.
In an interview with the Defense One website Tuesday, Dempsey said “the potential for miscalculation concerns me” in the Asian territorial disputes. “I don’t think China or any of our Asia-Pacific partners seek confrontation, but the more they feel a need to assert their territorial claims, the greater the risk of miscalculation."
Dempsey added, “The challenge is this patchwork quilt of issues that exist in the Asia-Pacific region, and the historic animosities that underpin them."