Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert departed the People's Republic of China (PRC) Friday after a successful four-day counterpart visit with military leaders, fleet units and leaders of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA).
Adm. Wu Shengli, commander in chief of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), hosted Greenert's visit, which marked the fourth major interaction between Greenert and Wu in the past year and is a clear indication of each country's desire to grow their existing relationship.
Directed by both the President and PRC Premier to improve military to military relations both Greenert and Wu have been focusing on identifying tangible measures that can build a better understanding and trust between each other's navies and safeguard maritime peace and stability in the region.
"I'm here at the invitation of Adm. Wu to continue our agenda for improving cooperation of our navies," said Greenert. "We are moving ahead in a series of steps to increase our confidence in each other."
In meetings between the two leaders during the visit several actions were discussed that, if implemented over the course of the next year or two pending approval, will provide the cooperative opportunities mutually sought out by the U.S. Navy and PLAN.
Creating additional port visits in the U.S. for PLAN ships and additional Chinese port visits for U.S. ships as well as extending more invitations to take part in each other's exercises were two of the actions Greenert and Wu discussed. These initiatives would help advance the relationship portion of the countries' desires to militarily work more closely together.
Ensuring the full understanding and implementation of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) through the ranks was one of the more challenging proposals by Greenert and Wu as it will take time to integrate CUES into the standard operating procedures for both navies; however, achievable and actually already in the works.
But the action proposed by Wu and Greenert that will present the greatest hurdle for each Navy to overcome is conducting personnel exchanges-exchanges that if approved will mitigate any doubt as to whether or not trust exists between the two navies and will signify a huge relationship milestone. Greenert said that although personnel exchanges are on the table, it could take years to implement, but that the previously mentioned actions are a step in the right direction.
Wu said after the initial meeting with Greenert that a new type of naval relationship had positive significance for the "new type of great power relations" that China and the United States are trying to build.
Greenert's visit was not solely spent in meeting rooms with Wu, he also toured several PLAN ships pier side and got underway on a PLAN frigate interacting with PLAN sailors at each juncture.
Greenert even held an all-hands call as he would with his own Sailors but with aircraft carrier Liaoning crewmembers, who were eager to talk with the U.S. service chief about a number of topics ranging from his impressions of their first aircraft carrier, to port visits and chow, to his views on women in service. During the all-hands call, a female PLAN officer told Greenert she was inspired by the recent news of Adm. Michelle Howard's four-star promotion to vice chief of naval operations and that it gave her hope to aspire to great heights in her own organization.
When asked by a Liaoning crewmember during the all hands about how the U.S. and Chinese Navy can cooperate, Greenert highlighted that common interests and potential cooperation can take place in areas such as disaster relief, search and rescue, counter piracy, and counter smuggling operations. Greenert also emphasized that both navies have to be responsible examples for others in the world and that the two navies have to work together to gain a better understanding of each other.
The all-hands call proved to be equally valuable to the Liaoning crew and Greenert in gaining a better understanding of each other as Sailors and as people.
Another valuable interaction that occurred during Greenert's visit was in a meeting with civilian leadership at the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), whose coast guard ships are frequently used as frontline forces patrolling the disputed areas of the East and South China Seas. Greenert said although he and the other 20 member-states of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) are focused on their navies implementing CUES, he stated the Chinese Coast Guard should also adopt CUES in order to reduce the chances of misunderstanding.
The Asia-Pacific rebalance has been a huge priority during Greenert's tenure as CNO. In the Asia-Pacific Greenert has placed a major emphasis on forces, capabilities and pushing for better understanding among nations. To enhance understanding, CUES, which was endorsed at the WPNS in the Chinese port city of Qingdao in April 2014, has been a major step in facilitating communication and synergy among navies and could easily be extended to mariners such as the Chinese Coast Guard to reap the same benefits and avoid miscalculations.
Greenert said, "These visits combined with our discussions on confidence building measures provided me valuable insight to the PLAN as we work to manage our way through a growing relationship."
Greenert's next planned interaction with Wu will take place in September at the International Seapower Symposium (ISS) at the U.S. Naval War College. During ISS, leaders from the world's maritime forces will come together to find solutions to areas of common interest and foster cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. The theme for this year's symposium will be "global solutions to common maritime challenges."