China and the United States discussed recent naval confrontations, including a collision between a Chinese submarine and a US sonar device, during their first high-level military talks in 18 months, state media reported on Wednesday.
Senior defense officials meeting in Beijing are also expected to discuss North Korea, which counts China as its closest ally.
Pyonyang has threatened war with the US and its allies in response to new UN sanctions imposed over its recent nuclear test blast. The naval incidents between China and US vessels took up 45 minutes out of the three-hour opening session of the three-day talks on Tuesday, the China Daily newspaper reported.
No conclusions were announced, but the high profile given to the issue appears to reflect China's growing desire to assert what it considers to be its territorial rights in coastal waters. The US has also called for more contacts on the issue to head off potential dangers arising from a rising number of altercations. The delegations, led by US Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy and People's Liberation Army deputy chief of staff, Lt Gen Ma Xiaotian, planned separate news briefings on the talks on Wednesday afternoon.
China regards the entire South China Sea and island groups within it as its own _ despite competing territorial claims from different Asian nations _ and interprets international law as giving it the right to police foreign naval activity there.
In the latest incident earlier this month, a Chinese submarine damaged a sonar array being towed by a US destroyer. China called that an accident. The US has confirmed only that there was damage. Pentagon officials have said there were four incidents earlier this year where Chinese-flagged fishing vessels maneuvered close to unarmed US ships crewed by civilians and used by the Pentagon to do underwater surveillance and submarine hunting missions. The US doesn't take a position on sovereignty claims to the sea but insists on the US Navy's right to transit the area and collect surveillance data.
The defense discussions, formally known as the US-China Defense Consultative Talks, were last held in December 2007. They had been suspended by Beijing in anger over US arms sales to Taiwan, the self-governing island China claims as its own territory. China's Foreign Ministry said the sides were also expected to discuss Taiwan, international security issues, and North Korea. China had hosted now-stalled six-nation talks aimed at pressing Pyongyang to halt its nuclear programs in return for financial aid and diplomatic inducements.
In a possible further raising of tensions, a US destroyer is reportedly tracking a North Korean ship suspected of carrying illicit weapons to Myanmar.
Flournoy was due to travel on to South Korea for talks on Friday.