The ongoing three-day visit by U.S. Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson to China, which started on Sunday, comes at a sensitive time, following an arbitral tribunal ruling last week that seeks to invalidate China's historic claims in the South China Sea.
The impulse of the United States and some of its allies, such as Japan, is to insist the ruling is legally binding and to enforce it with patrols in the name of "freedom of navigation".
But using military force to make China succumb to "a scrap of paper" that it neither accepts nor acknowledges will be of no avail. Although China desires peace and is committed to peaceful settlement to the South China Sea disputes, there will be no room for compromise on an issue that concerns its core national interests.
So the Chinese navy must be ready for any military provocations that challenge the country's sovereignty.
The U.S. continues to stir up trouble by pointing accusing fingers at China's reclamation work on its islands and reefs, claiming it is militarizing the region.
Beijing insists the projects are for civilian purposes and the public good, and says it has exercised restraint when the U.S. has repeatedly and provocatively sent its warships near and around its islands in so-called freedom of navigation patrols.
What China's next step will be in regard to its island reclamation work will depend on how serious its interests there are threatened. Saber rattling or use of force will definitely draw tit-for-tat responses.
Yet China has reiterated it safeguards freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and does not seek to challenge U.S. primacy in the Asia-Pacific.
This is the foundation for both sides to seek a peaceful solution to the South China Sea issue, which can be achieved through face-to-face communications.
Sino-U.S. military interactions have become more mature and professional, especially after the signing of rules of behavior for the safety of air and maritime encounters in 2014.
Undoubtedly, Richardson's sitting down together with his Chinese counterpart, Admiral Wu Shengli, commander of the Chinese navy, and exchanging views even disagreements is conducive to finding out how the two navies can manage the risks that may result from escalated tensions in the region.
This is an issue of increasing urgency. Neither side can afford any miscalculation or misjudgment, for it could pit them against each other militarily.
Hopefully, Richardson will get the message.