QINGDAO, China — Naval officials from the U.S. and nearly two dozen Asia-Pacific nations adopted an agreement Tuesday aimed at heading off accidents and miscommunication at sea to reduce the possibility of conflict amid rising frictions between an increasingly assertive China and its neighbors.
The Code For Unplanned Encounters at Sea was approved unanimously at the Western Pacific Naval Symposium held in the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao.
The agreement outlines how warships should communicate and maneuver when they come into contact in heavily trafficked sea lanes surrounding China, Japan and Southeast Asia. Tensions have been rising in the region over competing territorial claims, especially over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are controlled by Japan but claimed by China.
The agreement “offers a means by which navies may develop mutually rewarding international cooperation and transparency and provide leadership and broad-based involvement in establishing international standards in relation to the use of the sea,” according to a text of the agreement provided by a U.S. Navy officer.
Although not legally binding, the agreement indicates China’s willingness to engage with its neighbors, U.S. Navy officials say.
In the China-Japan islands dispute, the U.S. has said it takes no side on the question of sovereignty that it recognizes Japan’s administration of the chain and has responsibilities to protect Japanese territory under a mutual defense treaty.