US Defense Secretary Robert Gates to travel to China and Japan

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates will head to China in early January in a sign of easing strains between the Pacific powers, and also visit ally Japan, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.

The Pentagon said Gates will travel to China from January 9 to 12, one year after Beijing snapped off military relations with Washington in protest against a multibillion-dollar US arms package for rival Taiwan.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters that Gates would work to build a military relationship with China "that is confident in tone, cooperative in nature and comprehensive in scope."

Gates will look to "extend upon those areas where we can cooperate" with China’s military and promote dialogue aimed at improving "mutual understanding and reducing the risk of miscalculation," Morrell told reporters.

Gates will visit at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie, Morrell said. The two nations have already resumed low-level military contacts at a technical level.

Gates had sought to visit in June during a regional tour but China rebuffed him. Admiral Mike Mullen, the top US military officer, said earlier this month that Gates would travel to China in January.

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