After a symbolic visit to a US aircraft carrier and military bases, a top Chinese officer's visit to the United States will become more substantive as the red carpet of the Pentagon is rolled out for a high-stakes meeting on Thursday.
General Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, will meet with US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at the Pentagon, two weeks after Carter publicly criticized China for its construction work in the South China Sea.
Fan will join US Army General Ray Odierno on Friday to sign a US-China Army-to-Army Dialogue Mechanism at the Washington-based National Defense University, US media reported.
The Chinese delegation, headed by Fan, started the US trip on Monday, with visits to a Boeing factory in Seattle, the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan in San Diego, and the army base at Fort Hood, Texas, before heading to Washington.
The trip follows recent friction between the countries over cybersecurity and China's construction work on some of its islands in the South China Sea, and comes ahead of President Xi Jinping's visit to the US in September.
Observers said the meeting between Fan and Carter will focus on the evolving Sino-US military relationship, and also will cover contentious issues like the South China Sea and cybersecurity.
Lu Yin, a researcher at the Institute of Strategic Studies under the People's Liberation Army National Defense University, said China, which has released a number of detailed statements to prove the legitimacy of its construction activities, won't back down.
"If the US could view it and its Asian allies' interests in an objective manner, it will tone down its rhetoric," Lu said.
Zhao Xiaozhuo, a researcher with the PLA's Academy of Military Science, said it is important for the senior officials of both countries to have face to face meetings to discuss their differences, build consensus and enhance trust. He said it is the highest-level Chinese delegation to visit the US in years.