The head of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy told his U.S. counterpart the installations China has constructed in the South China Sea aren’t a sign of an increased militarization in the region, but said China will protect its installations depending on the threat level, according to the Chinese Ministry of National Defense.
The defense of China’s actions was part of a two-hour Tuesday video teleconference – between U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Adm. Wu Shengli.
“Our necessary defensive step of building on islands and reefs in the Nansha (Spratly) Islands is not militarization, but this has been maliciously hyped up by certain countries and media,” Wu said during the teleconference, as reported by news wire Reuters.
“We will certainly not seek the militarization of the islands and reefs, but we won’t not set up defenses. How many defenses completely depends on the level of threat we face.”
Earlier this month, China landed three commercial airliners on its newly constructed airfield on an artificial island on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea that caused concern in the Philippines and Vietnam. Wu told Richardson that the landings were made to see if the airfield was suitable for civilian aircraft.
The conversation also touched on the success of the multi-national Conduct for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), implemented in April of 2014, successful navy-to-navy encounters in 2015 and plans to meet in person later this year.
“I value these discussions, face-to-face interaction and frank exchanges help build a personal connection that benefits both our navies now and into the future,” Richardson said in a release from the service.
The conversations between the two navy heads are intended to diffuse unnecessary tensions between the services and prevent “miscalculation” and reduce risk, according to the service.
Richardson’s predecessor, retired CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert, had a close working relationship with Wu, meeting in person several times in the U.S. and China during his time at the head of the U.S. Navy.
Following the October Freedom of Navigation operations (FON op) by USS Lassen (DDG-82), in which the guided missile destroyer transited within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese installation on the artificial island on Subi Reef in the South China sea, Richardson and Wu spoke to clarify U.S. intentions following the operation.
Not explicitly mentioned by the Navy is the status of the PLAN’s invitation to the upcoming 2016 Rim of the Pacific, the multi-national naval exercise off the waters of Hawaii later this year.
In 2014 the PLAN sent four ships to participate in the exercise and an additional signals intelligence ship that was not part of the RIMPAC program.
The following is the complete Jan. 19 release from the Navy on the call between Richardson and Wu.
WASHINGTON (NNS) — Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson participated in a video teleconference (VTC) January 19 with his Chinese counterpart, People’s Liberation Army (Navy) (PLA(N)) Commander Adm. Wu Shengli to discuss the state of relations between the two navies.
The two-hour discussion was the third time Richardson has engaged with Wu over the VTC, the last being in October 2015. Conversations between the two heads of navy serve to establish a dialogue that reduces risk of miscalculation between their two forces.
“I value these discussions–face-to-face interaction and frank exchanges help build a personal connection that benefits both our navies now and into the future,” said Richardson.
Richardson and Wu highlighted progress in the relationship between the U.S. Navy and PLA(N), noting successful exchanges and visits that occurred during 2015. Each conveyed willingness to build on that progress in 2016.
Of note, both admirals discussed upcoming opportunities to meet in-person for the first time later this year.