WASHINGTON — Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie will visit the United States next week to meet his US counterpart Leon Panetta as the two nations seek to shore up testy relations, officials said Wednesday.
"The reason for the visit on Monday is to attempt to further strengthen our military relation and contacts with the Chinese," said Pentagon spokesman George Little.
Liang will visit several US military bases, especially a naval base in San Diego, the Marine base at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and an Army base at Fort Benning in South Carolina. He will also travel to West Point military academy.
The United States, which is increasingly worried about Beijing's mounting military strength, has been seeking to develop ties with the Chinese army to boost cooperation and encourage greater transparency.
In February, China's heir apparent Vice President Xi Jinping was welcomed at the Pentagon during an official trip to the United States where he was honored with a 19-gun salute, a privilege rarely accorded to foreign dignitaries.
Liang's visit "follows on the heels of Vice President Xi's recent visit to the Pentagon and we believe this is an important point on the trajectory of increased cooperation with our Chinese counterparts," Little added.
Panetta is also due to make a trip to Beijing soon, Pentagon spokesman, Navy Captain John Kirby said.
"The secretary has been invited and he looks forward to visiting Beijing in a not too distant future," he said.
Military contacts between the two countries were broken off by Beijing in early 2010 when Washington unveiled a $6 billion arms contract with Taiwan, that China claims as its territory.
Contacts were resumed at the end of the year shortly before then US defense secretary Robert Gates visited Beijing in January 2011.
Liang's visit comes as the White House promised on Friday to give "serious consideration" to selling new US fighter jets to Taiwan.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are also in Beijing for key annual talks this week between the United States and China.
Their visit has been overshadowed by Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng who on Wednesday left the US embassy, where he had sought protection after fleeing house arrest, following a deal with Beijing on his safety.
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