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US Navy ‘Shaping Events’ in South China Sea

FILE - The nuclear-powered aircraft supercarrier USS George Washington is escorted into a navy port in Busan, South Korea, Oct. 4, 2013.

FILE - The nuclear-powered aircraft supercarrier USS George Washington is escorted into a navy port in Busan, South Korea, Oct. 4, 2013.

The United States' top naval officer said the Navy’s growing presence in the Asia-Pacific region is beginning to show results and shape events, but acknowledges it will be ‘a long-term effort.’ Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations, said he hopes the U.S. Navy will be able to expand cooperation with India once its new government takes its place.

Speaking Monday at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Greenert said the growing military-to-military dialogue with China is beginning to show results, especially in the South China Sea, where maritime tensions between China and its neighbors are on the rise.

He said China was among the Asia-Pacific powers that joined the United States last month in adopting a Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) during a meeting in Qingdao.

"They have had situations where they (China’s navy) have intervened on our behalf, where one of our ships was being approached by a non-navy Chinese ship and being kind of harassed, and the commander of the [Chinese] warship said, ‘I’ve spoken with this guy (U.S. ship commander), he’s on constant course and speed, get out of the way, and actually positioned himself [between the ships]. And, there are a few examples of this. We are starting to shape events. We have got to manage our way through this, in my opinion, through this East China Sea and South China Sea [tensions]. We’re not leaving. They know that. They would be the leadership of the Chinese navy. We believe that we have to manage our way through this," said Greenert.

The Philippines and Vietnam are among the nations that have territorial disputes with China. During President Obama’s Asia trip last month, the United States signed a 10-year security agreement with Manila.

Greenert said navy-to-navy “interoperability” with the Philippines today is “reasonably good,” but how the two countries build on that, he said, is a matter of discussion and could involve a status of forces-type agreement (SOFA). The U.S. Navy has also requested more port calls in Vietnam. Greenert also said he would like to see more cooperation with Hanoi “in a deliberate manner.”

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the admiral also expressed the hope the United States could renew a strategic partnership with India, a relationship he said the two navies once enjoyed.

“Stable mil-to-mil relations are there, they’ve been there with India. We need to improve our communications and our interoperability. Currently, we do exercise with the Indian navy. It’s a lot of humanitarian assistance, search-and-rescue, [and] medical. But, my goal would be to get back to where we were in the mid-2000s. We were doing very comprehensive events in an exercise called Malabar, which is an annual exercise we have with the Indian navy. We were doing carrier operations together, very, very complex, integrating air wings, and I think it would be great if we could get back to that level,” said Greenert.

Greenert said with the new Indian leadership coming to power, perhaps they would be willing to have a greater presence in the western Pacific. He said it will depend on what the political ramifications are and where they are willing to go.

The chief of naval operations said the Navy is fully committed to the Asia rebalance. Today, 51 of the Navy’s 289 ships are deployed in the Asia-Pacific region, and that presence will grow to 58 ships next year and 67 by 2020.

Greenert says 23 nations are to take part in Rim of Pacific war game exercises off Hawaii, running June 26 to August 1, involving hundreds of aircraft, 40 warships and 25,000 military personnel, including army and navy forces from China for the first time.