Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of operations of the U.S. Navy, is currently in China consulting with his counterpart on increasing naval cooperation between the navies of the United States and China. Greenert met Adm. Wu Shengli, commander in chief of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), on Tuesday. The two focused their discussions on expanding cooperation and communication between the navies of China and the United States amid growing tensions in the East and South China Seas. According to Agence Frances-Presse, Wu welcomed Greenert “with a red-carpet ceremony and an honor guard at his headquarters in Beijing.”
Greenert’s trip to Beijing comes amid a spate of military-to-military interactions between the United States and China in the past year. Additionally, it comes in the wake of the sixth annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Mil-to-mil ties between the United States and the People’s Republic of China have been somewhat strained by growing tensions in the region. Representative from the two countries traded accusations at the Shangri-La Conference in Singapore earlier this year. Furthermore, a December incident where a U.S Ticoderoga-class guided missile destroyer, the USS Cowpens, was involved in a minor confrontation with Chinese vessels escorting China’s new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, sowed additional mistrust between the two navies.
Naval cooperation between the U.S. and China is still a mixed picture though. While the two countries continue to have their differences over Asia’s maritime commons, China’s Navy was invited to participate in the U.S.-led RIMPAC exercise, the world’s largest multilateral naval exercise.
Greenert’s trip to China represents his “fourth interaction” with Adm. Wu, according to an anonymous U.S. official who spoke to AFP about the trip. The same official emphasized the importance of these visits in terms of helping to build a personal rapport between the two naval chiefs. According to the AFP report, Greenert will tour the Liaoning — a gesture of transparency by the Chinese Navy. When U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited China earlier this year, he too was given a tour of the repurposed Ukrainian carrier.
Although few details about this meeting are public, it is likely that it will have a limited impact on strategic issues, and instead focus on establishing better and clearer communication mechanisms between the two navies to prevent any misunderstandings at sea. It is highly unlikely that Greenert will discuss naval cooperation in the context of China’s various disputes with countries in the region, U.S. allies and non-allies alike. It is possible that the two will discuss the U.S. position on Japan’s recent collective self-defense interpretation. When U.S. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno visited China earlier this year, he emphasized the need for Tokyo and Beijing to better communicate to prevent “miscalculations.” Japan’s recent constitutional reinterpretation has caused concern in China and Greenert may emphasize this same point.