Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
BEIJING — The chief of the US Navy met his Chinese counterpart Tuesday for talks aimed at improving cooperation between their fleets following concerns over regional territorial disputes and potential armed conflict.
Adm. Wu Shengli, commander in chief of China’s navy, welcomed Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the US chief of naval operations, with a red-carpet ceremony and an honor guard at his headquarters in Beijing.
They did not speak to reporters but a US Navy official said the visit was meant to “look at ways to increase the cooperation between our navies.”
It was the two men’s “fourth interaction” over about the past year, he said, adding: “It obviously improves our understanding of each other also.”
Greenert’s trip is set to last until Friday and will include a visit to China’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.
Tensions are mounting over maritime disputes in the East China Sea between Beijing and Tokyo, as well as in the South China Sea between Beijing and Hanoi, Manila and others.
The official, who demanded anonymity, said it was “hard to say” if specific instances of regional tensions would come up in the talks.
“Those things exist but the intent of these meetings is to look at ways that we can work better together so we can improve the understanding between our navies,” the official said.
“And once we have those understandings maybe we can then solve some of these other complex issues.”
China’s neighbors are increasingly worried that Beijing’s maritime disputes will lead to military hostilities, a US research group said in findings released Monday.
“This year in all 11 Asian nations polled, roughly half or more say they are concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighbors will lead to a military conflict,” according to a broad study conducted in 44 countries by the Pew Research Center.
Even in China itself, the study showed that 62 percent of the public worried that territorial disputes between China and nearby countries could spur fighting.
Greenert’s visit is also part of efforts to intensify dialogue between the US and Chinese militaries.
US Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno visited China in February and said Beijing and Tokyo must enhance communication to avoid “miscalculations” over the East China Sea.
US President Barack Obama told Chinese President Xi Jinping in a telephone conversation on Monday that he was determined to constructively manage growing differences between their two nations.
Points of contention include trade, cyber espionage and US support for security allies Japan and the Philippines.