Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson reviews an honor guard aboard a Chinese People's Liberation Army (Navy) frigate, July 20. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Nathan Laird)

QINGDAO, China - Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson visited Chinese North Sea Fleet headquarters, July 20 to meet with fleet commander Vice Adm. Yuan Yubai.

The goal of the five-day trip is to improve mutual understanding and encourage professional interaction between the two navies.

"This is an important time in a very important relationship," said Richardson. "As growing nations and global powers, our two navies will play a pivotal role in the direction this relationship takes. We should take advantage of our common culture as Sailors to advocate for customs and laws that have served mariners and their nations for thousands of years, and in particular the last 70 years, where so many have greatly prospered."

During the meeting with Yuan, CNO underscored the importance of lawful and safe operations in the South China Sea and elsewhere professional navies operate. He also reiterated that U.S. forces will continue to sail, fly and operate wherever international law allows--a point emphasized by U.S. officials during recent visits to Asia.

"The U.S. Navy will continue to conduct routine and lawful operations around the world, including in the South China Sea, in order to protect the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of sea and airspace guaranteed to all," said Richardson. "This will not change."

Richardson began the week in Beijing where he met with People's Liberation Army (Navy) (PLA(N)) commander Adm. Wu Shengli and members of the Chinese naval staff.

"I am supportive of a continued and deepening navy-to-navy relationship, but I will be continuously reassessing my support conditioned on continued safe and professional interactions at sea. In this area we must judge each other by our deeds and actions, not just by our words," said Richardson.

The visit, which has been in work for months, was Richardson's first visit to China and his first in-person meeting with Wu. Over the last year, the two admirals have held three discussions via video teleconference.