Asia Defense

US Navy Warship Makes 1st China Visit Since South China Sea Arbitration Ruling

A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer arrived in the Chinese port of Qingdao on Monday.

US Navy Warship Makes 1st China Visit Since South China Sea Arbitration Ruling
Credit: U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold  arrived in the seaport of Qingdao, located on the Yellow Sea in China’s Shandong Province, on August 8 AP reports. It is the first visit by a U.S. warship to China following the arbitration ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on maritime disputes between Beijing and Manila in the South China Sea.

The USS Benfold conducted a signals exercise with the PLAN while in Qingdao–the homeport of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) North Sea Fleet. According to the commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer, Commander Justin L. Harts, the purpose of the visit is to “build relationships” with the PLAN.  The naval officer refused to comment on the ongoing maritime disputes in the South China Sea and referred reporters to U.S. Pacific Command, headquartered in Hawaii.

“Sailors are sailors at the end of the day, be it in the East or in the West; we all face the same challenges at sea. These similarities unite us. I am sure that by the end of the week we will see that American Sailors and Chinese sailors are as close as any other sailors out on the high seas,” Harts said. “This port visit is a tremendous opportunity to build relationships between sailors based on shared interests and perspectives.”

The Benfold will host a reception and ship visits. The crew of the U.S. Navy warship will also have the opportunity to visit PLAN vessels and tour Qingdao.  The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift, will also pay an official visit to the PLAN North Sea Fleet headquarters in Qingdao this week. He is expected to meet with the media on August 9.

The USS Benfold is an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer and part of the U.S. 7th Fleet’s so-called Forward Deployed Naval Forces based in Yokusuka, Japan. The warship is a member of Destroyer Squadron 15 and was attached to the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group in June. The Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan conducted patrols in the Philippine Sea in June, which included practicing modern naval warfighting techniques.

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Port visits are an important part of the U.S. Navy’s engagement strategy with the PLAN. On occasion, visits have been canceled for political reasons.

In May, China canceled a scheduled port visit to Hong Kong by the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier USS John C. Stennis without explanation. In 2007, the Oliver Hazard-Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Reuben Jamessunk off Hawaii in January 2016—and the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk were refused entry to a Chinese port amidst Sino-U.S. political tensions as well.