|Ships taking part in exercises off Qingdao opened to the public yesterday in the Chinese port city. China sent warships, supply ships, a hospital ship, helicopters and marines to take part in the exercises marking the 65th founding anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. (Xinhua Photo)|
MORE than 20 countries with interests in the western Pacific signed up to a framework maritime communication deal yesterday in what could be a major step toward ensuring that miscommunication between naval vessels does not develop into a conflict.
The Code For Unplanned Encounters at Sea provides simple instructions to be translated into regional languages that navies can use when they come across ships from other countries.
It’s hoped that the code will lessen the possibility of collisions or misunderstandings that could lead to conflict in the heavily trafficked sea lanes surrounding China, Japan and Southeast Asia.
Tensions have been rising in the region over competing territorial claims, especially over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.
The agreement, approved unanimously at the Western Pacific Naval Symposium in the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao, is targeted at “establishing international standards in relation to the use of the sea.”
China, the United States, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru and several other nations signed on to the framework.
China’s navy commander, Admiral Wu Shengli, welcomed the accord.
Addressing the symposium yesterday, Wu said it was a means for closer cooperation in humanitarian missions, as well as a way to avoid misunderstandings.
“For the sake of the extremely precious peace we enjoy at present, we need to ... try to avoid extreme behaviors that may endanger regional security and stability,” Wu told those taking part in the symposium, who included US Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert.
Xu Hongmeng, vice admiral in the People’s Liberation Army Navy, said that the agreement would have a positive impact on maritime conduct, emphasizing that it was voluntary.
But he added that it would have no impact on conduct in the disputed waters of the East and South China Seas.
“You can’t say that it’s related to the issues in the South and East China Sea — this is about the navies of many countries,” Xu said. “This will not influence those issues.”
US Navy officers said the code was based on protocols already used by the US military and its allies.
It had been discussed among Asia-Pacific states for more than a decade, but legal and linguistic barriers were overcome only in the past year.
While ships at sea already talk over the radio, the accord seeks to standardize those communications with code phrases, the meaning of which have been translated into local languages.
“Bravo” indicates a ship is conducting weapons practice, reassuring other craft that they are not being fired at. “Foxtrot” means the ship is launching or retrieving helicopters or other aircraft.
While that doesn’t guarantee conflicts won’t occur, it does give regional navies a standard way to communicate and avoid incidents such as the December 5 near-collision between a US Navy cruiser, the USS Cowpens, and a ship accompanying China’s sole aircraft carrier in international waters in the South China Sea.
US Navy officials said the Cowpens maneuvered to avoid crashing into the Chinese ship in the two nations’ most serious sea confrontation in years.
China’s Navy intends to send a pair of destroyers, an oiler and a hospital ship to join in US-led, 23-nation naval drills near Hawaii, building on a trend of integration with foreign navies begun in 2008 when China committed ships to anti-piracy patrols off Somalia.
The WPNS was established in 1987 to promote pragmatic cooperation between the navies of member countries, strengthen mutual understanding and trust, and safeguard regional maritime security. It comprises navies whose countries border the Pacific Ocean region.
The Qingdao meeting is the first time China, one of its 12 founding members, has hosted the biennial symposium.
The symposium was to have included an international parade of navy ships, but that was canceled, ostensibly due to the search for Malaysia Airways Flight MH370 which continues in the southern Indian Ocean.