A top U.S. military officer said Sunday that Washington will maintain its presence in the South China Sea, but will show no prejudice toward any side involved in the territorial dispute there.
The dispute over territorial waters and islands in the South China Sea between China and its southeastern neighbors has intensified in the past few months.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, expected the US and Chinese militaries to develop "more tangible relations" that match Beijing's rising role and its deepening relations with Washington.
"The worry, among others that I have, is that the ongoing incidents could spark a miscalculation, and an outbreak that no one anticipated," Mullen said a news conference at the start of his four-day visit to China Sunday morning.
Later, in a speech given to students at Beijing's prestigious Renmin University, he said that the United States is, and will remain, a Pacific power. But he said the regional and global challenges that the U.S. and China face together are too large and too vital to be blocked by misunderstandings between the two sides.
The visit came after the US and the Philippines held an 11-day joint naval exercise in the South China Sea.
Mullen arrived in Beijing early on Sunday. His visit is in response to the trip to the US in May by Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army Chen Bingde.
Besides his talks slated for Monday morning with Chen, Mullen is also scheduled to meet with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Guo Boxiong and Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, respectively.
In another move, the US, Australia and Japan reportedly held a trilateral military exercise off the coast of Brunei near the South China Sea on Saturday.
Meanwhile, China and the Philippines are trying to ease tensions, with the two foreign ministers agreeing on Friday in Beijing not to let disagreements affect "the broader picture of friendship and cooperation".
Mullen said that exchanges between Chinese and US militaries should take into account the fact that China is no longer an "emerging power" but already a "world power".
And it is natural for a country with stronger economic capabilities to develop its military, Mullen said, adding that means more responsibilities and greater transparency.
"That is the reason why I'm here to visit General Chen and we need to build more tangible relations between the two militaries," Mullen said.