U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Robert L. Thomas Jr., second from left, speaks with senior members of the People's Liberation Army Navy North Sea Fleet during navy-to-navy discussions in Qingdao. (U.S. Navy/Lt. Andrew Orchard)

QINGDAO, China - More than 50 senior officers from U.S. 7th Fleet and the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLA(N)) North Sea Fleet met Aug. 6 to discuss increasing cooperation, future exercise opportunities and improved communication between the fleets.

North Sea Fleet Commander Rear Adm. Yuan Yubai hosted 7th Fleet commander, Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, and fleet leaders for a 90-minute roundtable staff exchange. The constructive talks included discussion of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, search and rescue procedures, and potential opportunities for future exercises and exchanges.

The senior leaders from both navies remarked how the fleets have many more similarities than differences. “We don’t have the same parents, but we are like brothers,” said Yuan.

The meeting allowed for open and frank discussion amongst all participants and included a questions and answer session with each fleet commander. Lt. Cmdr. Guan Qiwu, executive officer of CNS Harbin, asked Vice Adm. Thomas about opportunities for future cooperation.

“Do you think PLA(N) officers can visit 7th Fleet ships and receive training?” asked Guan.

“I can see a future where both our navies work closely in operations and exercises, exchange information and train with each other. I look forward to the next opportunity,” said Thomas. “CUES is a great example. It’s a foundation we can build on for future cooperation. Bridge-to-bridge communication is getting better every day, and our CUES interaction preceding this visit was our most advanced to date.”

Leaders also discussed counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden, efforts to remove chemical weapons in Syria, and rendering assistance during Operation Damayan. “The PLA(N) is a global navy. I am confident we can work together to improve security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific,” said Thomas.

The staff talks ended on a positive note with both parties agreeing that the 7th Fleet and North Sea Fleet relationship will grow in the future.

“I had a number of productive meetings with Rear Adm. Yuan and I’m already seeing positive signs the 7th Fleet and North Sea Fleet relationship will grow,” said Thomas.

Established in 1943 in Australia, and based in Qingdao at the end of World War II, 7th Fleet has been promoting security and stability for more than 70 years. 7th Fleet’s area of operation spans from the International Date Line in the East to the India/Pakistan border in the West, and from the Kuril Islands in the North to the Antarctic in the South.

USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) has been forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan for 34 years. As the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Robert L. Thomas, Blue Ridge is vital in maintaining partnerships in the 7th Fleet area of operations.