WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. military officer begins a four-day trip to China on Sunday in another sign of warming military ties between the two countries after a break in relations following a $6.3 billion U.S. arms deal with Taiwan.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was leaving Washington on Friday afternoon for a visit to Beijing at the invitation of his counterpart, General Chen Bingde, chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, who visited Washington earlier this year.
"Admiral Mullen looks forward to continuing the engagement and dialogue that began during General Chen Bingde's visit to the United States in May," said Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan.
Mullen had a wide range of meetings scheduled with senior military officials, including visits to PLA military units, Lapan said. He also is scheduled to speak to students at Renmin University in Beijing.
Mullen's visit to China is the first by a chairman of the Joint Chiefs since his predecessor, General Peter Pace, went there in 2007. Mullen's last visit to China also was in 2007, when he Chief of Naval Operations.
U.S.-China military ties were severed in January 2010 after President Barack Obama's administration announced a $6.3 billion arms deal with Taiwan that included Patriot anti-missile systems and Apache attack helicopters.
Military links remained severed through much of the year, even as Mullen and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who resigned last week, called for regular contacts to improve trust and avoid misunderstands that could spin out of control.
U.S. officials have watched with concern as China has displayed a growing military assertiveness and begun developing weapons that could be used to undermine U.S. strengths in the region, from anti-satellite missiles to radar-evading jet fighters.
Military ties between the two countries resumed in late 2010 and have picked up pace since President Hu Jintao visited President Barack Obama in January.
In addition to the Mullen-Chen visits, Gates visited China in January and met with his counterpart, Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, at the annual Shangri-La Security Dialogue in Singapore last month.
(Editing by Christopher Wilson)