HONG KONG, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- The United States will conduct joint naval exercises with China this week while strengthening ties with the Philippines, which is vigorously opposed to China's claim on territory in the South China Sea.
"Sometimes countries may have some disagreements, yet our navies are able to operate safely at sea," Harry Marsh, commanding officer of the USS Stethem, told Bloomberg after the docking of his ship at the port of Shanghai on Monday. "We have a very good relationship with the Chinese navy at sea. It's a cordial relationship."
Marsh's remarks about a longstanding practice of cooperation between the two navies come at a time when tensions have flared in the disputed Spratly Islands, where China has been building airstrips, according to satellite images.
Marsh said the Stethem's visit to China was planned before the USS Lassen, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, which Beijing has claimed as its sovereign territory.
The Stethem is to conduct exercises with a warship from the People's Liberation Army that includes a simulated rescue of a swimmer, following protocols under the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, or CUES.
The exercises are taking place as the U.S. Pacific Fleet continues to stress the importance of freedom of navigation. Adm. Harry Harris, the Pacific Fleet commander, said in November that the United States would continue to patrol waters claimed by China.
President Obama is expected to arrive in the Philippines on Tuesday for an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Manila. He'll also take part in an event intended to reaffirm the U.S.-Philippine alliance and serve as a gesture of support for one of the claimants of the Spratlys, to include a visit to a Philippine naval ship, according to The Diplomat.
"The event will showcase U.S. maritime security assistance to the region," said Daniel Kritenbrink, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council.