BEIJING • The chief of US naval operations met his Chinese counterpart via a video call yesterday, two days after a US destroyer sailed close to artificial islands built by Beijing in the South China Sea.
The call between Admiral John Richardson and Admiral Wu Shengli, who commands the Chinese navy, lasted about an hour, US Navy spokesman Tim Hawkins said.
"It was professional and productive," he said, but refused to provide details about the talks.
Before the talks, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Defence said that Adm Wu would present China's "solemn position on the US vessel's entry without permission" into waters in the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea.
The latest development came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was on a two-day visit to China, suggested yesterday that China head to international courts to resolve the row.
"The territorial dispute in the South China Sea is a serious conflict. I am always a bit surprised why, in this case, multinational courts should not be an option for a solution," Dr Merkel said in a speech in Beijing.
"Nevertheless, we wish that the sea trade routes stay free and safe, because they are important for all."
Beijing rebuked Washington for sending a guided-missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of one of China's man-made islands in the Spratlys on Tuesday, saying it had warned the USS Lassen and called in the US ambassador to protest.
"We would urge the US side not to continue down the wrong path," Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told a regular briefing. "But if they do, we will take all necessary measures in accordance with the need."
Chinese President Xi Jinping will next week visit Vietnam, another vocal claimant in the South China Sea, and Singapore, while Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan will attend a meeting of South-east Asian defence ministers in Malaysia.
The patrol was the most significant US challenge yet to territorial limits that China claims around its artificial islands in one of the world's busiest sea lanes.
Despite the spike in tensions, Australia said yesterday it will continue scheduled live-fire naval exercises with China.
Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne said she supported the Americans' right to freedom of navigation under international law, but added that Canberra was not involved in the US action.
A spokesman for Ms Payne said yesterday that two Royal Australian Navy ships will still take part in exercises with their Chinese counterparts off the south-eastern Chinese coast near the disputed Spratlys in the coming days.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE