A group of 27 U.S. Navy commanders and captains made a visit to China's sole aircraft carrier as tensions continued between the two nations over claims in the South China Sea.
Navy spokesman Lieutenant Tim Hawkins confirmed to VOA News that the U.S. delegation made a "good will" visit to the aircraft carrier Liaoning on Monday. It was followed by a visit to the Chinese Navy's submarine academy the following day.
"This was a long planned exchange visit that followed an earlier visit by a Chinese naval delegation to the U.S.," said Hawkins.
A Chinese military website says participants discussed topics such as personnel training, management, medical support, and development strategy of aircraft carriers. It says that a delegation of Chinese naval officers visited the U.S. in February as part of the annual China-U.S. navy exchange program.
The visits follow reports that the U.S. Navy plans to sail a warship near a 21-kilometer nautical zone around artificial islands that China claims as its territory. That would demonstrate Washington's refusal to recognize China's claims in the South China Sea, especially artificial islands that the U.S. insists cannot be classified as sovereign territory.
Earlier this month, China warned against engaging in “provocative behavior” in the South China Sea, in comments that appeared to be directed at the United States. Defense Secretary Ash Carter later said that the U.S. would “fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, but China has the most extensive claims in the busy and resource-rich waterway.
While the U.S. is not a claimant, it has urged all of the parties involved in the dispute to halt reclamation and any militarization of features.