The U.S. and Chinese Navy chiefs met in Beijing on Monday to discuss professional interactions at sea.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and his counterpart commander of the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) (PLA(N)) Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong talked about professional maritime interactions, specifically risk reduction and adhering to professional norms.

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson met with senior Chinese defense officials at the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) (PLA(N)) headquarters in Beijing on Jan. 14. Richardson is on a three-day visit to Beijing and Nanjing (Photo: U.S. Navy)

This is Richardson’s second visit to China. The two Navy chiefs previously met at the International Seapower Symposium, in Newport, R.I., and have also held three video teleconference discussions.

“I appreciate the opportunity to visit China and to meet with Vice Adm. Shen in person. There is no substitute for these types of face-to-face meetings. Given the responsibilities that our navies have in the larger nation to nation relationship, we must work together,” Richardson said in a statement.

“These meetings between senior leaders allow us to speak candidly about areas where we agree and about how to manage risk while we resolve our differences,” he added.

According to a Dec. 27 Chinese ministry of defense press conference, Shen invited Richardson to visit China during their Dec. 18 video teleconference.

This visit came a week after the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-85) conducted a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) by sailing within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

The U.S. Navy conducts FONOPS in the region to challenge excessive maritime claims, which it says are inconsistent with the international law of the sea. A 2017 Defense Department document explains these claims “if left unchallenged, could impinge on the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all States under international law.”

China claims the entirety of the Paracel Islands, which it calls the Xisha Islands. Vietnam and Taiwan also claim the islands.

In a Jan. 7 statement, the Chinese Defense Ministry said the PLA Southern Theater Command sent naval ships and aircraft to warn off DDG-85.

Chinese Col. Li Huamin argued at the time China has “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters, and the provocation of the US warship has infringed China’s sovereignty, is a grave violation of Chinese law and relevant international law and is also a grave threat to regional peace and stability.”

On Monday, Richardson said that the U.S. and its allies and partners “have operated consistently in the region for the last 70 years with a focus on mutual security. This presence has supported exponential growth in prosperity for all.”

“Our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific excludes no nation and we recognize that while our two nations may not always agree, it serves both our people’s interests to engage where we can,” he added.

In Beijing, the CNO also visited PLA(N) headquarters, the PLA(N) Research Academy, and met with other top defense officials of the Central Military Commission. He will next travel to Nanjing, where he is set to visit the PLA(N) Command college for a roundtable discussion.