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Top US Military Official Begins Visit to China

A top American military officer begins a two-day visit to China in what is being described as an important step in deepening bilateral understanding. U.S. and Chinese officials say the aim of the visit by General Richard Myers, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is to improve relations and boost cooperation between the two nations' militaries.

Ties were strained nearly three years ago, when a Chinese fighter jet collided with a U.S. surveillance airplane off China's coast. The Chinese pilot was killed and the American flight crew detained for 11 days after being forced to make an emergency landing in southern China.

General Myers is the highest-ranking military official to visit China since the May 2001 incident.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, says General Myers is coming at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, Chief of General Staff General Liang Guanglie. Mr. Kong says during his visit, General Myers will meet with General Liang, leaders of the Central Military Committee of the Communist Party and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Analysts said they expect the issues of North Korea's nuclear program and U.S. weapons sale to Taiwan to be on agenda.

The visit by General Myers is seen as yet another sign of increasing cooperation between the United States and China on the North Korean nuclear issue.

The United States has recently praised China for its efforts to broker negotiations to end the standoff. The dispute began more than a year ago when North Korea admitted to restarting its nuclear weapons program in violation of several international accords.

General Myers' visit - which ends Thursday - includes a tour of the Beijing Space Center. Officials say the U.S. General's entourage will be the first foreign delegation to visit the facility.