BEIJING (AFP) - US Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno on Saturday said Beijing and Tokyo must enhance communication to avoid "miscalculations" amid a simmering territorial dispute over islands in the East China Sea.
General Odierno spoke during a visit to China where he has held talks with military officials aimed at establishing a formal high-level dialogue between the US and Chinese armies in the coming months.
"We reinforced the importance of dialogue and discussion between the Japanese and the Chinese regarding this issue," Gen Odierno told reporters. "We have to be careful and ensure that there are no miscalculations along the way."
Tokyo and Beijing are locked in a bitter territorial row over Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus.
Tensions between the two nations dramatically intensified after Japan nationalised some of the islands in September 2012, with ships and aircraft from both countries regularly patrolling waters around the contested territory.
The dispute has also on occasion come perilously close to boiling over into armed clashes.
Last February, Japan accused a Chinese frigate of directing a weapon-targeting radar at a Japanese warship in the East China Sea.
"We do have a treaty with Japan, a defence treaty, but the most important piece is that we in fact emphasise the importance of this continued dialogue to solve this problem," Gen Odierno said.
Dialogue between China and Japan, however, has come to a virtual standstill as the island dispute has intensified.
China's President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have never held a formal bilateral summit, just short encounters at global and regional meetings.
The prospects for dialogue dimmed further in December when Mr Abe visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine which honours Japan's war dead including convicted war criminals who were executed at the end of World War II.
Beijing views the shrine as a symbol of Japanese war-time militarism and Tokyo's lack of repentance for atrocities committed in the last century.
On Wednesday Japan's Jiji Press quoted Captain James Fanell, intelligence chief for the US Pacific Fleet, as telling a forum that China has tasked its military to become capable of conducting "a short sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea".
Gen Odierno, however, dismissed such reports when asked to comment.
"I've seen no indications of that at all," he said.