During a Thursday video telephone conference between People’s Liberation Army Navy Commander Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong and Admiral John Richardson, chief of US Naval Operations, North Korea’s militarization and rising tensions in the region were a key part of the conversation
Richardson released a statement after the discussion stressing the importance of maritime security in the Asia-Pacific region and the need for cooperation between China and the US "to address [North Korea’s] provocative and unacceptable military behaviour."
Shen made no mention of Pyongyang in comments following the meeting, however, saying only that creating an exchange process for frontline commanders should be the two navies’ chief concern.
Li Jie, a naval expert based in Beijing, told the South China Morning Post that the timing of Washington bringing up cooperation during a critical military exchange suggests a need on the part of the US to include the Chinese Navy.
Li said that Washington "hopes the PLA navy will provide support in the event of Pyongyang conducting its next missile launch from a submarine."
"The US wanted to use the call to send a message to North Korea that China will help the Pentagon to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes," he added.
CNN on Thursday, citing two US defense officials, reported that over the last 48 hours a 65-meter-long North Korean submarine had been exhibiting “unusual deployment activity,” sailing 62 miles into international waters in the East China Sea, farther than it ever had before.
Concern over a possible North Korean submarine missile test is heightened by Pyongyang’s recent landmark intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test on the July 4.
Some experts say that the Hwasong-14 missile tested then could reach the US mainland in as little as two years, and the North’s state-run media quoted leader Kim Jong-un instructing scientists to conduct more missile tests more frequently.
Though US President Donald Trump has called for China’s help restraining North Korea in the past, particularly after meeting with President Xi Jinping in April, he said last month that Beijing’s effort had come to naught.
On June 20, Trump wrote on Twitter, "While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!"