US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will look for ways to deepen military relations with China during a visit to Asia this week, even as he works to bolster
Panetta, who arrived in
Scores of cities across
Panetta will discuss with Japanese officials the realignment of
He will wraps up his tour with defense cooperation talks in
However, despite high-level visits by top officials, relations between the Pentagon and the People's Liberation Army are marked by wariness and mistrust.
"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 senior U.S. defense official said on condition of anonymity.
"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."
But Dean Cheng, a
"The relationship is not in the deep freeze, but there is, at best, limited evidence of any kind of progress," he said. "The Chinese military remains averse to transparency as the West understands it and remains hostile to things like U.S. military ships transiting China's EEZ (exclusive economic zone) without prior permission."
The U.S. push for deeper ties could be especially tough-going at a time when China is squaring off with its neighbors over potentially resource-rich islands in the East and South China Seas.
'We don't want provocative behavior'
He said he would encourage
"What we don't want is to have any kind of provocative behavior on the part of
Panetta said he hoped to talk to Chinese defense officials about cooperating on a range of additional issues where the two countries have 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. "Those are some of the areas that I'd like to work on."
Even if Panetta is successful in moving U.S.-China cooperation to a new level, it is still not clear that the relationship will deliver the kind of communications U.S. officials hope is possible.