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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to visit China in 2014

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Monday that he will visit China next year to capitalize on an improving trend in U.S.-China relations, even as Beijing casts a wary eye on the Pentagon’s strategic “pivot” to Asia and the Pacific.

During a break in meetings at the Pentagon, Hagel and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Chang Wanquan, told reporters they see room for greater U.S.-China military cooperation, including joint exercises and high-level visits. Chang affirmed that China’s navy next year will participate for the first time in a major international maritime exercise known as Rim of the Pacific.

Hagel said he accepted Chang’s invitation to visit Beijing in 2014.

Chang and Hagel both spoke hopefully of building greater trust between the two nations’ militaries and chipping away at long-held suspicions. But Chang in particular cautioned against mistaking his country’s friendliness for weakness.

Chang seemed to suggest that the U.S. not intervene in territorial disputes with Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

“The Asia-Pacific is our common homeland,” Chang said. “Any action that leads to trouble or provocation, any unwanted action out of self-interest or (that) further complicates or magnifies the situation would be highly irresponsible and will not lead to a favorable result.”

The Obama administration for more than a year has promised a strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region following more than a decade of intense focus on the greater Middle East.

Chang said China hopes this shift will be part of a comprehensive approach that includes greater U.S. economic and social interaction in the region. Already, however, it appears that Washington is focusing primarily on increased military activity, he said.