WASHINGTON — The heads of the US and Chinese navies spoke with each other for just over an hour Thursday morning in a conversation prompted by the passage Monday of a US destroyer near waters claimed by China.
Few details were released following the call, other than to confirm the admirals spoke about freedom of navigation operations, the relationship between the two navies, pending port visits, senior leader engagement, and the importance of maintaining an ongoing dialogue.
It was the first one-to-one discussion between Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations and Adm. Wu Shengli, commander of the People's Liberation Army Navy, since Richardson took office in mid-September as CNO, succeeding Adm. Jon Greenert. Wu and Greenert spoke in a video teleconference (VTC) in April, and Greenert, Richardson and Wu held another VTC in August.
The video teleconference held Thursday, reportedly at the request of the Chinese, was a direct result of the US decision to send the destroyer Lassen within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built by China on a reef in the South China Sea's Spratly Islands. The artificial island is one of at least seven construction projects intended cement Chinese sovereignty claims in waters where several nations have territorial disputes.
The Lassen, the US Navy pointed out, also sailed through waters claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam.
In a statement released after Richardson and Wu spoke, Lt. Cmdr. Bashon Mann, a spokesman in Richardson's office, noted that "US freedom of navigation operations are global in scope and executed across a wide range of maritime claims. The operations serve to protect the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law. Freedom of navigation operations are not a challenge to the sovereignty of land features. The United States takes no position on competing sovereignty claims to land features in the South China Sea."
Both admirals, Mann said in the statement, agreed to speak again via VTC later this year.