US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will look for ways to deepen US military relations during a visit to China this week, even as he works to bolster US alliances in the region as part of a strategic shift that China views with concern.
Panetta, who arrived in Tokyo yesterday, will discuss the realignment of US military bases in Japan and ballistic missile defense cooperation before heading to Beijing.
Senior US and Chinese defense officials have made an effort to push their military relationship forward since it resumed a year and a half ago after a bitter break over US arms sales to Taiwan.
"This is a relationship that has in the past been characterized by a lot of ups and downs and an on-again, off-again cycle that reflected the lack of a solid foundation ... sufficient to weather the type of turbulence that's natural in a relationship that's as broad and complex as the one that we have with China," a US defense official said.
"We're not there yet in terms of where we'd like to be in our military-to-military relationship, but visits like the one that Secretary Panetta is going to have sustain the forward progress that we've been able to make over the past several months."
Panetta said he hoped to talk about cooperating on a range of issues where the two countries had common interests, including nuclear proliferation, freedom of navigation, piracy, trade and humanitarian assistance.
"These are all areas where we can work together to try to provide security support for the Asia-Pacific region that will enhance the ability of that region to be able to prosper in the future," Panetta said.
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