Amid growing tensions between the United States and China in regions like the South China Sea, the two nations signed an agreement on Tuesday intended to improve communications between the two naval powers.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stopped in China as a part of a Pacific tour that included a visit to Hawaii to meet with PACOM Commander Admiral Harry Harris, and will continue with meetings allied nations South Korea and Japan.  During his stay in China, Dunford met with Gen. Fang Fenghui, the senior military leader for China’s People Liberation Party, and the two put pen to paper to make the new communications agreement official.

“The agreement is intended for crisis mitigation,” a Defense Department press release said.  Ensuring there is a quick method of direct communication between military leaders in the region will enable both nations the opportunity to move quickly to dispel miscommunications or seemingly aggressive behavior with benign intent.  In short, this new communications agreement does not call for military cooperation, so much as it permits a channel for explanation and warning.

This type of agreement is not only important in the South China Sea, where China’s aggressive expansion and claims of sovereignty have earned them the ire of most nations that share coastline with the waterway.  Two weeks ago, China forced Vietnam to give up their oil drilling platforms off the coast of their own nation, as they fell within China’s ever growing claims of ownership.  In response, Vietnam signed a defense agreement with the United States last week, the first such diplomatic measure since the end of the Vietnam war, some 40-plus years ago.