BEIJING Relations between the Chinese and U.S. navies are their "best in history" and exchanges between the two will become more systematic in the future, China's military on Friday cited the country's naval chief as telling visiting U.S. officers.
The comments by navy chief Wu Shengli come as Washington considers conducting freedom-of-navigation operations within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands China has built in the disputed South China Sea, without saying when it would do so. Such a move would likely infuriate Beijing.
Both China and the United States had worked hard to increase military interaction, holding joint drills and agreeing rules on encounters at sea and in the air, Wu said, according to the official People's Liberation Army Daily.
"At present, relations between the Chinese and U.S. navies are at their best time in history," Wu was cited as saying. "Exchanges and communications are more trusting and effective."
This has not come easily though, and is the result of hard work by both sides, he added.
"In the future, exchanges between frontline forces from both countries will gradually become more systematic," Wu said.
There was no mention of the South China Sea.
The U.S. naval delegation Wu met earlier this week visited China's sole aircraft carrier.
The military's newspaper said they also visited a submarine school and a command college.
China-U.S. relations have become increasingly strained over Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have claims in the area.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Dean Yates)