US official visits amid rising tensions

Updated: 2012-09-17 09:04

By Cheng Guangjin in Beijing and Tan Yingzi in Washington (China Daily)

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Island tensions, aircraft deployment in Japan will be high on agenda

United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is set to visit Japan and China this week amid escalating tensions between the two biggest powers of East Asia.

Analysts said the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands and the US deployment of MV-22 Osprey aircraft to Japan will be high on Panetta's agenda.

The top Pentagon official will also try to explain the US' pivot toward Asia, and promote US-China military relations in meetings with Chinese officials, according to analysts.

Panetta left Washington on Sept 15 for his third trip to Asia in 11 months. He will travel to Japan, China and New Zealand.

His visit to China will be his first since taking office in July last year, following Defense Minister Liang Guanglie's trip to Washington in May.

In announcing Panetta's trip to China, the Pentagon underscored opportunities for increasing military cooperation as part of their efforts to reassure China that relocating military resources to the Asia-Pacific is not meant to confront the country.

"We believe it's going to be a very productive and cordial visit, one that will advance our shared goals of a more transparent and even more viable relationship with the Chinese military," said Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, to the American Forces Press Service.

During the trip, the US also seeks to promote contact between cadets and mid-level military officers to complement high-level talks, he added.

Panetta's stop in Japan before his prearranged visit to China, which had been revealed much earlier, has attracted attention as the two neighbors are engaged in an escalating territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands.

In Japan, Panetta will meet with that country's Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and US service members, Little said.

He is also expected to discuss Japanese concerns over the safety of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft the US is deploying to Japan.

"The frequency of recent visits to Japan shows the US has an unwavering commitment to the Japanese alliance and to Japanese security, and it makes sense when you're in the neighborhood to stop by and see your good friends," he said.

However, China is also of growing importance to the US.

In a recent poll conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, when asked whether Japan or China is more important to the US, seven in 10 US citizens said that China is more important.

Commentator Peng Nian said the US defense secretary's visits to Japan and China is "very important" at a time when the two countries' ties are strained by their territorial disputes.

"The US will show that it will not abandon Japan on the one hand, but will try to constrain Japan from destructive behavior on the other," Peng said.

"In China, Panetta will learn about China's stance on the Diaoyu Islands issue, try to deter Beijing and persuade China to change its tough stance," said Peng.

Panetta's 10-day trip will also include a stop in New Zealand, nearly 11,700 kilometers southeast of China. He will be the first US defense secretary to visit that nation in more than 30 years.

The US and New Zealand signed a declaration in June, that provides a framework for cooperation to focus, strengthen and expand the bilateral defense relationship.

China is concerned about the US rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific region, which is seen as the traditional superpower trying to contain China through strengthened relations with its allies and partners in this region.

"The US aims to have New Zealand join in its rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific region and further complete this system," Peng said.

According to the Voice of America, this visit is a chance for Panetta to allay the concerns of Beijing.

"Our effort to renew and intensify our involvement in Asia is fully compatible with the development and growth of China," Panetta said in June last year in Singapore.

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