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US Navy 'excited' by prospect of better communication with China, but says more work needed

By Greg Torode

HONG KONG (Reuters) -The U.S. Navy was "excited" by the prospect of improved operational communications with the Chinese military amid roiling regional tensions, but work was still needed to solidify the next steps, a senior U.S. naval officer said on Friday.

Admiral Lisa Franchetti, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, told a media briefing during a visit to Busan that it was vital to maintain open lines of communications between the two militaries to avoid "misunderstandings and miscalculations" that could lead to conflict.

"I'm very excited and I welcome that announcement," she said of China's agreement to resume telephone communications between theatre commands, something U.S. officials have been eager to develop.

"These agreements were reached just recently, and we know that we have work with the PRC military to do to solidify the next steps," Franchetti said.

Franchetti is making her first trip to the region since she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Nov. 2 as the first woman to command the Navy and be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Her remarks come after agreements this month by U.S. President Joe Biden and China's Xi Jinping to resume military contacts that Beijing froze after then-House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022.

The need for improved military communications was part of four hours of discussions when the two leaders meet in San Francisco last week, talks that covered tensions over Taiwan, Iran and co-operation over reducing the flow to the opioid fentanyl to the United States.

The U.S. and some regional militaries have complained about near misses and unsafe interactions with Chinese aircraft and ships in the disputed South China Sea and across East Asia, leading to fears that tensions could spiral into conflict.

"We expect all navies in international waters to uphold the rules and norms of proper military behaviour on, under and above the sea," she said.

Asked repeatedly about Chinese military advances, particularly in its submarines and undersea surveillance operations, Franchetti said she was confident of U.S. naval dominance even as China "continues to develop its capabilities in the maritime domain and in all other domains".

The U.S. would continue to operate closely with allies and partners "which is our strategic advantage and something China simply doesn't have."

Through tighter integration, planning and exercises with its network of allies and partners, she said the U.S. will "continue to deter China and other potential adversaries around the world".

(Reporting by Greg Torode; Writing by Liz Lee; Editing by Jamie Freed and Gerry Doyle)