Sailors aboard the Chinese People's Liberation Army-Navy destroyer Qingdao (DDG 113) wave as the ship departs Pearl Harbor following a routine port visit in September 2006. Photo: Damontucker.com
Three Chinese naval ships are scheduled to visit Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida, Tuesday as part of a routine goodwill port visit. The ships are expected to arrive following visits to ports in Europe.
Sailors from both navies are expected to participate in sporting events and ship tours during the Mayport visit.
"Goodwill visits by ships from foreign navies help build trust and foster shared understanding," according to a statement from the U.S. Navy.
"Foreign navy ships routinely conduct port visits to Mayport, as ships from Peru and Canada have stopped here in the last few months," U.S. Navy spokesman Cmdr. William Marks said. "Engagements like this and the July 2015 port visit to China by USS Stethem demonstrate a continuous navy-to-navy bilateral relationship between our two countries."
This is the first visit by Chinese naval ships to Florida but not the first to a U.S. port. Last month, Chinese navy ship Zheng He visited Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.
Related: U.S. not provoking Beijing in South China Sea
While the visit is aimed at building goodwill, it comes in the midst of tensions between the U.S. and China over disagreements around man-made islands that Beijing is constructing in the South China Sea. Beijing claims that the waters surrounding the artificial islands are under its control, but the U.S. disputes that claim and last week sailed U.S. warship within 12 miles of one of the islands.
Following the U.S. patrol, Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that the U.S. operation is "a very serious provocation, politically and militarily," and the country's foreign ministry summoned Max Baucus, the U.S. ambassador to China, to express its "strong discontent" over the patrol.
But the visit of the Chinese navy this week is part of a broader U.S.-China effort to improve military-to-military contact and communication. These types of exchanges are often cited as a rare sign of positive progress in the relationship.