The US and Chinese navies held joint search-and-rescue exercises yesterday, the latest step aimed at enhancing cooperation between the mistrustful military powers.
Missile-equipped destroyers from both countries held the exercise in the South China Sea after jointly planning the maneuvers last week, a system the US Pacific Fleet commander said improved understanding and communication.
The Chinese guided-missile destroyer Zhanjian worked with the USS Juneau in the exercises designed to locate a ship in danger and salvage it, the Xinhua news agency reported.
"In the exercises, the two navies demonstrated very good military skills and strong cooperative spirit," Gu Wengen, commander of China's South China Sea fleet, said.
"Before ships go to sea and conduct the exercise, the people come together and plan the exercise," Admiral Gary Roughead told reporters last week.
"And that, in and of itself, is a very, very important dimension of the type of relationship that navies have. Because it's when people come together and begin to plan, they begin to learn how each other does certain tasks and functions [and] they develop relationships," he said.
Military ties between the US and China broke off in 2001 after a Chinese fighter jet and a US surveillance plane collided, killing the Chinese pilot and forcing the US crew to land in China, where they were held for 11 days.
In the past year, the two have been seeking to improve ties, but the potential for friction was highlighted again by an uncomfortably close encounter between a US warship and a Chinese submarine in the Pacific last month.
Roughead has said the incident between the submarine and the USS Kitty Hawk near Okinawa showed the need for increased transparency and communication between the two countries' forces.
In yesterday's exercise, the navies conducted communications, fleet formation changes and search-and-rescue exercises, the Xinhua news agency reported.
It followed joint exercises off Hawaii in September, during which members of the Chinese navy also visited US naval bases and held barbecues with the US Navy.
The exercises were the second phase of the joint Sino-US search-and-rescue maneuvers that began in September in the waters off Hawaii.