The top officers in the U.S. and Chinese navies on Tuesday lauded progress in U.S.-China naval ties and said they were encouraged by the increased use of protocols for unplanned ship encounters at sea, a U.S. Navy official said.

U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson and China's naval commander, Admiral Wu Shengli, spoke for two hours via video conference, highlighting port visits, personnel exchanges and other measures undertaken in 2015, said the official. They agreed to continue that work this year.

U.S., Chinese officers encouraged by use of rules for ship meetings

The talks came amid growing tensions over Beijing's continued development of man-made islands in the contested Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea, and its decision to land commercial airplanes on one of the islands.

China also rebuked Washington in October after a U.S. warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of the islands. U.S. officials have said they plan additional patrols in coming months, but no dates have been set for the next such exercise.

"I value these discussions. Face-to-face interaction and frank exchanges help build a personal connection that benefits both our navies now and into the future," Richardson said in a statement released by the U.S. Navy.

It was the third such dialogue between the two men since shortly before Richardson took over as the top U.S. naval officer.
Such discussions "help establish a dialogue that reduces risk of miscalculation between their two forces, the Navy said in the statement.

Richardson and Wu agreed to hold another video teleconference this spring, unless "emergent issues" arose before then, said the Navy official.

They also discussed a possible first in-person meeting in China in late spring or early summer, said the Navy official, but no dates have been finalized.

The officials said both officers were "satisfied and encouraged" with the increased use of protocols established under the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), a 2014 agreement between 21 Pacific nations that sets out standards and procedures for when ships meet at sea.

Source: Reuters/ Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore