By Guo Yuandan
BEIJING, June 21 (ChinaMil) -- The Chinese naval commander on June 16 gave four suggestions to the commander of US Pacific Fleet, who has visited China for three years in a row and has been to China's three naval fleets. What messages does that send?
The Chinese navy released news on the evening of June 16 that the PLA Navy commander Shen Jinlong met with the commander of US Pacific Fleet Scott Swift at the PLA Navy's headquarters on the afternoon of June 16.
It was the third time that Swift visited China since 2015, and the first time that Navy Commander Shen Jinlong met with a senior US naval officer after he took office.
Shen Jinlong gave four suggestions on the relationship between Chinese and American navies, including strengthening the communication between senior officers, intensifying the communication between and management of frontline sailors, expanding exchange in professional areas between the two navies, for instance the exchange between young officers and naval academies, and the US being more open toward China in organizing next year's Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC 2018).
It is learned that Swift visited the Zhanjiang-based South China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy before heading to Beijing, and he therefore became the first high-ranking US naval officer who has visited all three fleets of the PLA Navy.
When Swift visited China in November 2015, his first station was Shanghai, where he met with high-level officers of the East China Sea Fleet. Then he visited the North China Sea Fleet during his China visit in August 2016.
Together with Swift was the destroyer USS Sterett, which arrived in Zhanjiang on June 12 for a five-day goodwill visit.
This was the first time that a US warship visited China after Trump became president. Later, Chinese and American naval vessels will hold joint exercises including communication, formation movement, exercise of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), and joint search and rescue, in order to deepen the friendship, collaboration and mutual trust between the two navies. Such exercise was also carried out when Swift visited China in 2015 and 2016.
This means that the US Navy is eager to know more about its Chinese counterpart, and this eagerness hasn't changed from the Obama administration to the Trump government.
The rising PLA Navy was candid, open and confident toward its US counterpart, the most powerful navy in the world. Swift’s visiting in three years indicated such candor and friendliness.
This also proved that high-level naval officers of both countries have maintained close contact, not only between the headquarters, but also between the fleets.
Previously Swift said in public that he had a private relation with many commanding officers in Chinese naval fleets. "I talked with many commanding officers in the South, East and North China Sea Fleets. I know them quite well."
An expert who demanded anonymity told the reporter on June 16 that the communication and understanding between high-level naval officers of the two countries can help build mutual trust, reduce doubt and mistrust toward each other, and prevent them from making misjudgment because of misunderstanding. It is helpful for seeking the biggest common ground at times of divergence and promoting the healthy and stable development of China-US military-to-military relations.
Apart from high-level exchange, frontline naval officers have had plenty of communication in recent years. They held exercises of the CUES many times and would have a little chat when encountering at sea unexpectedly.
In 2015, naval captains of both sides made mutual visits, creating the opportunity for frontline commanders to communicate face to face and deepen mutual understanding, and for the US Navy to correctly view the normal development of Chinese Navy.
It must be noted that even when the US naval vessel entered 12 nautical miles of China's islands and reefs in the South China Sea and when China and the US were in tension over the South China Sea issue, exchange between the two navies never stopped.
"The communication and cooperation between Chinese and American navies have been deepened continuously. They are in a leading position and have played a leading role in the military exchange between the two countries."
The leading role has continued from the past to the future. The fourth suggestion made by Shen Jinlong is very meaningful. He hoped the US will be more open toward China in organizing the RIMPAC-2018.
First of all, this suggestion confirmed that the US had invited Chinese Navy to participate in the RIMPAC-2018 and China is glad to participate, but China also made it clear that it wishes to communicate with the world's most powerful navy on a deeper level and to a larger extent instead of being marginalized as an observer. If the Chinese Navy is always placed on the sideline, it may no longer participate in the exercise.
The PLA Navy has participated in the biennial RIMPAC twice successively in 2014 and 2016.
A navy expert said on June 16, "China used to participate in nontraditional security subjects such as search and rescue, anti-piracy and submarine aid, but the US didn't open traditional security subjects like ant-submarine drill and air defense to China. As the two navies deepen their communication and enhance mutual trust, China has voiced its opinion in a candid and practical manner, and the US will take that into account. I think the RIMPAC-2018 is worth expecting."
"But this will take time. It's unrealistic for the US to be completely open with China overnight," added the expert. Therefore, the RIMPAC-2018 is worth expecting and may have breakthroughs.
There is no denying that the building of mutual trust between China and the US and their militaries still faces many challenges. When testifying in front of the House Appropriations Committee on June 13, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said China's construction of artificial islands and reefs and deployment of military equipment in the South China Sea are aimed to control the busiest sea route in the world, which is one of the most pressing issues in bilateral relations.
"Thanks to the united efforts of all countries around the South China Sea, the situation in the region is stable and positive at the moment. China and ASEAN countries have agreed on the framework of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, laying the foundation for properly settling the issue in the end," Shen Jinlong told Swift when speaking of China's stance on the South China Sea issue.
He stressed that China respects and protects every country's freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea in accordance with international laws. The so-called "freedom of navigation" actions taken by the US are in no way beneficial for peace and stability in the South China Sea and shows America's disrespect to the efforts made by China and ASEAN countries.
Anyway, no one can describe the meeting between Shen Jinlong and Swift with words like "provocative attitude" and "tough response" this time.