Chinese Minister of Defense Cao Gangchuan will meet this week at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the first such high-level military contact in years.
No Chinese defense minister has visited Washington since 1996, and no top Chinese military official has been to the Pentagon since the April 2001 collision between a Chinese fighter and a U.S. reconnaissance plane off the Chinese coast.
That incident saw the American aircraft make an emergency landing on China's Hainan Island, where its crew of 24 was detained for 11 days, angering U.S. officials.
But Pentagon sources say military-to-military contacts between China and the United States, which dwindled sharply following the incident, are once again on the upswing.
And these sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, say Mr. Rumsfeld plans to discuss the state of bilateral military relations when he meets the Chinese defense minister.
Other issues on the agenda include global and regional security issues, such as terrorism, and the situation involving North Korea's nuclear program.
Pentagon sources note China is playing a key role in helping the United States, South Korea, and Japan deal with North Korea. These sources emphasize the U.S. goal is the complete, verifiable, and irreversible elimination of all North Korea's nuclear weapons systems.
China's Xinhua News Agency reported the defense minister's departure for the United States last Friday, noting that in addition to meeting Mr. Rumsfeld, he would visit U.S. armed forces and military schools.
But no details of his itinerary have been released, for what Pentagon officials say are security reasons.