BEIJING (AP) — A day after the U.S. forged an agreement to put a second missile defense radar system in Japan, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived Monday in China, where he may get a frosty reception from officials who have been unhappy with America's expanded military presence in the region.
His three-day visit comes amid escalating tensions over territorial disputes involving China and Japan, and questions about whether the U.S. is backing its Japanese allies in those disagreements.
This is Panetta's first trip to China as defense chief, and it is expected to include several historic visits, including a meeting Wednesday with the country's leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, just days after the ruler reappeared in public after a two-week absence.
Panetta's stay in China was extended in recent days so he could visit Qingdao, a key naval base where he will see a Chinese submarine and frigate.
According to U.S. defense officials, Panetta plans to press China to seek ways to peacefully resolve the territorial disputes. Chinese leaders, however, are wary of America's move to increase its military presence in the Asia-Pacific and they will question whether the new radar system is aimed at them.
The defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose sensitive travel details about the China visit, said they expect Panetta to take this opportunity to explain the Pentagon's plans to increase its focus and presence in the Pacific region. And he will explain that the new radar in Japan is aimed at better protecting the region and the U.S. from the North Korean missile threat, and is not aimed at China.
Speaking at a press conference in Japan on Monday, Panetta said he is concerned about the angry protests across China over uninhabited East China Sea islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Although Japan has controlled the islands for decades, the Chinese were angry that the Japanese government purchased them from their private owners.