HONG KONG – Chinese naval ships could do a better job of communicating with their U.S. counterparts in the Pacific to prevent accidental confrontations between the two military powerhouses in Asia, a senior U.S. Navy commander said Monday.
Vice Adm. Scott van Buskirk, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, says U.S. ships haven't had much success engaging Chinese ships in basic communications. Such information as a ship's speed and course and the "pleasantries of operating" weren't being shared on the high seas.
"In this region, we're just not as successful in receiving the return of communications to come back on their normal conduct of operations on the high seas," van Buskirk told reporters.
China is expanding its navy and increasingly venturing further out to sea, becoming more assertive around its coastline and in disputes over territory. Plans to deploy the country's first aircraft carriers over the next decade as well as a "carrier killer" missile threaten to upend the balance of power in Asia, where U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups have ruled the waves since the end of World War II.
China's growing naval might has raised the chances of encounters with other countries' navies.
Van Buskirk said senior U.S. leaders have worked to establish contacts with their counterparts in the Chinese military and he hoped that similar ties would be established at the tactical level as well.
"We view such interaction as very important to ensuring that encounters at sea — which are occurring more frequently as China's navy grows — remain void of any misunderstanding or confusion that could inadvertently lead to incident or crisis," the commander said.
Van Buskirk's fleet is responsible for most of the Pacific and Indian oceans, with 60-70 ships and 40,000 sailors and Marines under its command.
Chinese naval ships have been taking part in anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, giving them the opportunity to work alongside ships from the U.S. 5th fleet, NATO nations, Russia and India.
Van Buskirk said he was looking forward to similar "engagement" occurring in Asia as Chinese and U.S. navies operate in the same waters, he told reporters.
The U.S. doesn't consider China a direct threat or an adversary, van Buskirk said. Instead, the two countries have a "broad, deep and complex" relationship that is mostly positive, he said.
He said the U.S. hopes that as China continues to develop a navy capable of operating across deep oceans, it will be used in a "responsible and constructive" way.
Van Buskirk, who is based in Japan, is paying a visit to Hong Kong with the 7th Fleet's command ship, the USS Blue Ridge.