WASHINGTON — Adm. Wu Shengli, commander in chief of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy, extended an invitation Tuesday to incoming chief of naval operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson to visit China, according to outgoing US CNO Adm. Jon Greenert.
Wu and Greenert, joined by Richardson, took part in a 90-minute video teleconference Tuesday morning, the second in a quarterly series of VTCs begun in April.
Greenert told a luncheon audience outside Washington he introduced Wu to Richardson, and that Wu was complementary of the working relationship established between the US and China during Greenert's time in office.
Wu, Greenert said, is "very interested in RIMPAC 2016 and making it work," referring to the Rim of the Pacific exercise, held every two years in Hawaii. China took part for the first time in the 2014 exercises.
"He views the exercises as a positive step in dealing with challenges," Greenert said, noting later that no commitments have been made.
"He really wants to come to RIMPAC," Greenert said. "He wants that to work out. But we all have bosses."
The Navy chiefs also discussed the Code for Unplanned Encounters At Sea (CUES), a 2014 agreement between 21 Pacific nations shepherded by Wu and Greenert to set standards and procedures for when their ships meet. China and the US, in particular, were concerned that such encounters could lead to unwanted escalation. The concept has spread to other regions, Greenert said, including Latin America and the Gulf of Guinea region.
"We don't want people shooting at each other," Greenert said. "We think we're on the right track."
Discussions have taken place about extending the concept to aerial encounters, but other government agencies need to get involved.
"One of the topics we had this morning was getting our Coast Guards to use this," Greenert said. "We've proposed this to the Chinese, because the interactions that take place in the South China Sea are predominantly Chinese Coast Guard ships.
"In the East China Sea it's a Chinese Coast Guard ship and sometimes a Japanese Coast Guard ship. And we say, it's okay, the gray hulls, we're getting along just fine. You others, you ought to really get involved in this.
"Wu said that, like the US, 'our Coast Guard is in a separate department of the government.' He agreed to support it," Greenert said, noting that US Coast Guard commandant Adm, Paul Zukunft has been to China to present a proposal to the Chinese Coast Guard, "and we'll see where that goes."
Greenert also noted that military to military exchanges continue to take place between the two navies. He referred to a group of Chinese officers that toured US facilities earlier this year.
Wu "is big on mil-to-mil exchanges," Greenert said, adding that a group of 26 US Navy surface warfare prospective commanding officers would be traveling to China in October.
But while the US and Chinese navies have an ongoing relationship, the same is not true with the Russians.
"It doesn't exist. It's very, very unfortunate," Greenert said. "It's vapor."
Some discussions with the Russians take place on several individual issues, such as the Arctic, Greenert said, "but tangible, mil-to-mil, it doesn't exist, which is very unfortunate."
Greenert noted that no agreements govern encounters with Iranian forces, but observed that the nuclear deal with Iran could be the basis to change that.
"I hope that we can get going with Iran. That could be an outcome" [of an agreement], he said, telling the story of a time when he and the Iranian naval chief were at the same conference.
"I sent that balloon up and it came back burst," Greenert said. "I met him one time in Djakarta, one of those regional things. Nobody knew they were going to be there, and there we were, at the same table talking about something." But the proposal went nowhere.
"We need to figure out a way to get back together, but I don't know how to do that." Greenert said.
After his luncheon talk, hosted by the Mine Warfare Association, the Surface Warfare Association and the Submarine League, Greenert told a reporter the nuclear agreement and the CUES policies might provide a framework to begin a discussion.
"If we get an agreement and it's approved, I view it as a window of opportunity to say what's next? And why not a mil-to-mil, a security-like relationship where we have a conversation?
"Since we already have a mechanism we're working at that point, then why can't we open it up do things like CUES? Why can't we start that? And without that dialogue it's hard to get going."
Richardson will officially relieve Greenert Sept. 18 as the US Navy's top commissioned officer.