WASHINGTON – China's defense minister will visit the U.S., officials said Wednesday, despite the controversy in Beijing over the fate of a dissident who sought protection in the U.S. Embassy.
The U.S. Defense Department announced that Gen. Liang Guanglie will arrive Friday on a weeklong visit — a sign that military ties that were scaled back over arms sales to Taiwan last fall are back on track.
He will meet Monday with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and travel to U.S. military bases.
Spokesman Capt. John Kirby said Panetta is looking forward to visiting Beijing "in the not too distant future."
High-level U.S.-China talks set to begin in Beijing Thursday have been overshadowed by the fate of dissident Chen Guangcheng. Beijing has demanded an apology from Washington over the issue.
The Obama administration has sought closer U.S.-China military ties, saying it will help build a cooperative relationship between the two powers. China's rising military clout is challenging U.S. pre-eminence in the Asia-Pacific, and increased dialogue is seen as a way to reduce the risk of a confrontation.
China's military has been less eager to engage and has periodically cut or scaled back military ties to protest U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan — mostly recently after the U.S. agreed in September to upgrade Taiwan's fleet of F-16 fighter jets. China claims the self-governing island as part of its territory.
The White House said in a letter last week to a Republican Sen. John Cornyn that it would consider sales of new F-16s to Taiwan — a statement that some speculated could give Beijing pause in resuming such high-level military contacts.
Kirby and Pentagon press secretary George Little said Liang's trip has been long planned and they know of no discussions about the letter and would not link it to the visit in any way.
Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor contributed to this report.