The Chinese and U.S. navies may hold joint drills within the year as part of efforts to build stronger ties despite recent tensions and lingering mistrust.
The exercises were discussed this week during a visit by Maj. Gen. Thomas Conant, the U.S. Pacific Command's director for strategic planning and policy, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday, citing unidentified Defense Ministry officials.
"The two sides exchanged views frankly and in depth on relevant issues concerning China-U.S. maritime military safety, and discussed holding a joint maritime exercise between the two navies within the year," Xinhua said. No other details were given, although in the past the two navies have held joint search-and-rescue exercises and joined in anti-terrorism drills hosted by Pakistan.
Xinhua said talks were held Monday and Tuesday in the port city of Qingdao, home to China's North Sea Fleet, with naval deputy chief of staff Rear Adm. Zhang Leiyu leading the Chinese delegation.
It said the U.S. delegation also met with North Sea Fleet commander, Rear Adm. Zhang Panhong, and visited vessels in the fleet, which has some of China's most advanced submarines and ships.
A spokesman at U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii said Conant remained in Beijing and a report on the talks was not expected until next week. Spokesmen for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing could not immediately be reached for comment.
The talks are part of a dialogue mechanism that started in 1997 and has endured despite periodic tremors in U.S.-China relations.
Washington urges Beijing to be more open about its soaring military spending, while Beijing resents U.S. support for Taiwan, the self-governing island China considers part of its territory to be reunified by force if necessary.
Beijing increased its military budget by nearly 18 percent to about US$45 billion last year, and is adding billions of dollars' (euros') worth of new warplanes, ships and submarines to project force farther from its shores.
Washington questioned China's willingness to abide by international maritime protocols after Beijing last year refused to allow three U.S. Navy ships to dock in Hong Kong.
While China blamed technical issues, the refusals were believed to be at least partly linked to the leadership's anger over U.S. military sales to Taiwan and the awarding of a Congressional Gold Medal to Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.