ZHANJIANG, China — US and Chinese sailors faced off on Chinese soil Tuesday, in sporting clashes between their navies aimed at building trust despite rising tensions over Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The contests — the hosts claimed a 3-1 victory at football, and the visitors dominated on the basketball court — were followed by a party on board the USS Blue Ridge, the flagship of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet as it paid a rare visit to the base of China’s South Sea Fleet.
The fleet’s frigates are charged with defending Beijing’s claim to almost all the South China Sea, against several Southeast Asian neighbors including allies of Washington — but the scene at the People’s Liberation Army vessels in Zhanjiang was all smiles.
US 7th fleet commander Robert Thomas clinked glasses with his South China Sea fleet counterpart Shen Jinlong.
“I remembered I owed him a beer,” Thomas said, before toasting a Chinese rear-admiral and cutting a cake decorated with the flags of both countries.
Chinese officers toured the hulking command ship, docked in the southern province of Guangdong, and eyed up their US counterparts over a lunch of tomato bisque and chicken paninis.