Top US defense officials called for improved military cooperation between the US and China following concerns over territorial disputes in South China Sea. China’s foreign ministry strongly condemned the U.S naval operation, claiming that they were challenging china’s territorial claims. This was following an operation by a US Navy destroyer within twelve nautical miles of an island claimed by China. However, American officials said that the operation was right under the international law under the right to the use of international waters.
The officials from the two countries met during a gathering of the region’s leading military officials in Malaysia. The U.S defense secretary, Ashton Carter met his Chinese counterpart, General Chang Wanquan, the Chinese defense minister, in Malaysia and held a forty-minute meeting which was described as cordial.
On the other hand, Admiral Harry Harris, the top American military officer in Asia, delivered an address in Beijing to make the case for the recent U.S patrols near the disputed islands. On Tuesday, he also met with the Chinese military commanders including General Fan Changlong, the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission that controls the armed forces. He told General Fan that the U.S desire was to deepen cooperation between the two nations while also managing their differences especially in the wake of the most recent disagreements.
Irrespective of the tensions, officials from both sides have expressed the willingness to alleviate tensions over China’s territorial claims. This can be highlighted by Beijing’s actions by not suspending military exchanges with the U.S. like it has done in the past, whenever tensions have arisen.
According to a U.S official, Mr. Carter is expected to board a U.S carrier patrolling the South China Sea on Thursday, the Theodore Roosevelt, after the defense ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur. This is seen by observers as another sign of resolve in the region by the Americans. The ship will be transiting in the South China Sea but is not expected to navigate among the disputed islands. It will also not conduct an operation within twelve nautical miles of any of the disputed islands.
The tension was brought about by a patrol of the Spratlys by the USS Lassen, sailing within twelve nautical miles of a Chinese-built island on Subi Reef. However, according to Washington, the operation was a demonstration that the area is regarded as international waters.
China, on the other hand, described the operation as a dangerous violation of its sovereign rights. This is because China claims sovereignty over all South China Sea islands and adjacent waters. It warned that it would take necessary measures if the U.S conducted more patrols.