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CNO: U.S., Chinese Navies Improving Working Relationships

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson meets with People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Commander Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong and other senior Chinese defense officials at the PLAN headquarters in Beijing on Jan. 14, 2019. US Navy Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Navy’s top officer stressed the importance of his personal relationship with his Chinese Navy counterpart and in continuing a dialogue to minimize the risks from the obvious tensions between the two most powerful Pacific naval forces.

“I don’t think there is any question that we’re in a competition and there are going to be areas where we’re going to have tensions,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said Jan. 28. He cited the South China Sea as a particular area of “disagreements,” obviously referring to China’s claims of territorial authority over virtually all of the large, heavily transited international waterway.

But in response to a question from the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon, Richardson that while “I think there are a lot” of tensions, “I have a good working relationship with my counterpart,” Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong, commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

Richardson cited Shen’s visit and speech to last September’s International Seapower Symposium at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., and Richardson’s recent visit to China. He said the Chinese Navy officials “were open to everything we asked. I had a very rich visit.”
He strongly endorsed “this idea of continuing to meet, to communicate, to get a better understanding of each other’s intent.”

“As we navigate these areas of disagreement, try to resolve them, we have to do so in ways that minimize risks,” Richardson said. He noted the code for unplanned encounters that govern commanders’ actions when a U.S. and a Chinese naval ship meet in the South China Sea as among the “rules that mitigate risks.”

Asked by a Chinese reporter if the Navy would send an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait, as a destroyer and oiler did a week ago, Richardson said he would not discuss possible future operations, but noted that that passage between mainland China and Taiwan “is international waters.”

Questioned about the state of the Navy after the recent difficult time with three at-sea accidents involving the U.S. 7th Fleet, Richardson noted that he had extensive visits with all levels of Navy leaders and sailors during his recent visit to the fleet and concluded, “we’re in a good place.”

“The readiness, the rigor of everything has really returned to 7th Fleet, across the board.” He said he saw “this new focus on readiness” and people were “talking about the right things,” readiness and warfighting and “not talking as much about manning problems, equipment problems.” But, he added, “we’re not out of it… There is more to be done.”

A 2012 image of a Navy laser weapons system. US Navy Image

Asked if he had any concerns about the rapid changes in military technologies, Richardson said, “I’m not too nervous about any particular technology,” and thought the Navy was able to “keep up or outpace just about anyone in the world” in terms of innovation. But, he added, “our (acquisition) system is just slowing us down in getting it out. We need the ability to move with urgency in getting systems from the laboratory out into the fleet.”

In terms of new technologies, Richardson said because of the advances in directed energy technology, “we’re going to be putting stuff on ships this year.” He did not offer any details. But the Navy fielded a 10-kilowatt solid-state laser weapon system on the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf nearly two years ago and has been testing more powerful lasers.

Pressed by O’Hanlon if the Navy’s stated goal of a 355-ship battle fleet was a real need or just a goal to have a goal, Richardson said that number was the result of numerous studies inside and outside the Navy. The “consistent conclusion,” he said was that to meet its responsibilities to the nation, “we just needed more naval power.” Further analysis led to 355, he said.
But, he added, they are doing those studies again and “the number may change with the new technologies.”

  • Duane

    It is all well and good for CNO to believe he can communicate with his Chinese counterpart … but I sure hope that he has someone on his staff who is a real China expert, as they used to say, “old China hand” who understand the subtleties of Chinese attitudes and communications and culture and the current regime there. What they say translated into English may not mean what the typical American thinks it means. Ditto in translating American intentions in language the Chinese both understand and respect.

    • Marlin

      How true! SecNav Danzing wanted to know who on the CNO’s staff, besides Intel, had any knowledge on China. The E Ring grabbed a WESTPAC Japan expert since no Chinese specialists could be found with a Pol/Mil background. Those were the days!

      Admiral Ace Lyons ran into the same problem when USS Reeves became his flagship for the first USN visit to China at Qingdao since 1949. Everything was choreographed for the initial rendezvous at sea with a PLA-N ship prior to entering port in Red China. When bridge-to-bridge comms where established, it came to great shock for the OOD that the PLA-N ship responded with, “This is Admiral Ma of the North Sea Fleet, I would like to speak with Admiral Lyons!” This was off-script as the meeting of the Flag Officers was supposed to occur pierside in Qingdao, per bilateral planning. The OOD called the CO in his cabin and was told to, “Let Lyons know now!”

      Ace arrived on the Bridge within a minute, already dressed out in SDB for the upcoming ceremonies even though we were a hour or more from setting the S&A detail. Ace grabbed the BB mike and barked, “This is ADM Lyons, good morning ADM Ma!” and the CHICOM replied, “Goodmorning Admiral, welcome to China….nihowma…yadayadayada in Chinese.” Ace looked around with wide eyes because the translators from AMEMB were supposed to meet us on the pier. So, I translated for ACE, having studied both Japanese and Chinese (to a lesser degree) in college.

      Anyway, here is some advice for Ace Lyons (RIP):

      Look at the history of former USS Decker, renamed ROCN Taiping. The CO of Taiping was the former Chinese Attaché to DC in WWII. He was sent to Gitmo for USS Decker and a handful of “Tin Cans” that would sail to Canton as the nucleus of the new ROC Navy in 1946, while General MacArthur ruled Japan and General Marshall was trying to manage China with surrendered Japanese forces between Mao and Chiang. They certainly knew ROCN Taiping and the other former USN ships would claim Paracels and Spratley Islands, indeed all of the SCS, for China because Imperial Japan had claimed the SCS and had military bases there, i.e., subs and seaplanes—no doubt they were on the mind of USS Darter!

      This why both China and Taiwan claim all of the SCS.

      FON ops in the SCS should be an embarrassment to any student of the Postdam Declaration at the Naval War College, where “international law” now trumps history.

      • .Hugo.

        rocn taiping, great historical facts.
        .
        that’s why the thitu island, which china has reclaimed in 1946 and the philippines has invaded and occupied since 1971, was named taiping island by china. 🙂
        .

      • Duane

        Chinese claims on their “nine dash line” are bogus, regardless of what anybody thought or said in 1946, or in 1146, or anywhere in between or since then.

  • Michael Hoskins, Privileged

    Trivia. I notice that Chinese dress blues conform in cut, fit, buttons and cap to the Anglo-American-North European style; that of the better navies. Bet they’ve read most of the sea power books out there too.

    (Also not ten feet tall).

    • .Hugo.

      the ‘type 88’ uniforms with the look you have described were introduced in 1988. the vice admiral was likely wearing the ‘type 07’ uniform introduced in 2007.

      • TomD

        Care to tell us what Adm, Shen Jinlong’s ribbons are for?

        • NavySubNuke

          Murdering dissidents and babies born to families with more then 1 child most likely. Working to keep the Chinese people under surveillance and control while cutting them off from the wider world probably earned him a few more.
          Maybe a few tossed in for properly polishing the knobs of key party member.

          • .Hugo.

            the “achievements” you have described very much match what the u.s. aggressive wars have brought to the victim countries. 🙂
            .

          • NavySubNuke

            ^wumao

          • .Hugo.

            i love your reply as it means you can’t refute. 🙂
            .

          • Chesapeakeguy

            You gotta understand that Hugo here is as much of a groupie for all things ChiCom as you will ever find. Something about those commies absolutely turns him on!

          • NavySubNuke

            My only wonder is if it is the promise of pay or the threat of execution.
            A few months ago hugo used to be a lot funnier. I am pretty convinced the old hugo was replaced and likely executed and this new one was plucked out of prison and put in his place.

          • Chesapeakeguy

            I don’t know. As gleeful as he is in advocating for all things ChiCom, I would guess that he is one of their Politburo members! LOL..

          • .Hugo.

            a few months ago you were a bit more capable too, hehe….
            .

          • NavySubNuke

            Do you ever get to see old Hugo around the internment camp or was he given the “final solution”?

          • .Hugo.

            maybe you can try to prove me wrong in the first place instead?
            .
            and “commies”? maybe you should first learn that they are more capitalistic than you, but with added socialist market economy in mind. 😀
            .

          • Chesapeakeguy

            Yeah Comrade, your beloved ChiComs are ‘more capitalist’ than the rest of us. Uh-huh. Of course they are. And nobody ever died under their benevolent commie leadership, have they now?

            Run along now. I don’t want to interrupt your umpteenth reading of “Mao’s Little Red Book”! Ciao!!

          • TomD

            The real answer would be a decent appraisal of the internal values of the PLAN. Your last sentence surely fits that list. As to the first two sentences, they are certainly true of the regime but the PLAN probably had little direct involvement in that, other than simple assent.

        • .Hugo.

          those are mainly ‘years of service ribbons’. he has served the navy for almost 50 years.

    • ben wah

      The Chicoms are an original bunch… /s

      • .Hugo.

        sure they are, when your latest warships are still applying the same fundamental knowledge of the compass and gunpowder which china invented. 😉
        .

  • NavySubNuke

    Glad to see the CNO out there reminding the Chinese to behave even as they whine about our FONOPs. Sending DDGs on these ops is one thing but I want to see us send more Oilers and other vessels that have almost no capability to defend themselves. An LCS would be perfect should one version deploy to the region again

  • Chesapeakeguy

    As Michael Corleone offered when he reiterated his father’s advice, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer!”

  • old guy

    The positive results from such liaison is immense. Lack of relations develops suspicions, some out of ignorance, some deliberately planted by other potential adversaries and some just accidental, but ALL counter productive to the principal goal of PEACE.