China’s naval commander told his U.S. counterpart there is a risk of “a minor incident that sparks war” if the United States continues with its “provocative acts” in the South China Sea, the Chinese navy said on Friday.
Admiral Wu Shengli made the comments to U.S. chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson during a video teleconference on Thursday, according to a Chinese naval statement.
The two officers held talks after a U.S. warship challenged China’s territorial assertions in the South China Sea on Tuesday by sailing within 12 nautical miles of one of Beijing’s man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago.
“If the United States continues with these kinds of dangerous, provocative acts, there could well be a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war,” the statement paraphrased Wu as saying.
“(I) hope the U.S. side cherishes the good situation between the Chinese and U.S. navies that has not come easily and avoids these kinds of incidents from happening again,” Wu said.
Speaking earlier, a U.S. official said the naval chiefs agreed to maintain dialogue and follow protocols to avoid clashes.
Scheduled port visits by U.S. and Chinese ships and planned visits to China by senior U.S. Navy officers remained on track, the official said.
“None of that is in jeopardy. Nothing has been canceled,” said the official.
Both officers also agreed on the need to stick to protocols established under the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES).
“They agreed that it’s very important that both sides continue to use the protocols under the CUES agreement when they’re operating close to keep the chances for misunderstanding and any kind of provocation from occurring,” said the official.
Beijing has rebuked Washington for sending a guided-missile destroyer close to Subi Reef.
A U.S. Navy spokesman stressed Washington’s position that U.S. freedom of navigation operations were meant to “protect the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law”.
The U.S. patrol on Tuesday was the most significant U.S. challenge yet to territorial limits China claims around its artificial islands in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.