US defence chief heading for Asia
Washington: In a bid to strengthen partnerships, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta would embark on his third trip to Asia since he took office 11 months ago.
The visit comes at a time when tension between China and Japan is high over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands.
The trip beginning this weekend would take Panetta to Japan, China and New Zealand, his spokesman said on Thursday.
In Japan, Panetta will meet with his Japanese counterpart for their second consultation in as many months, said Pentagon Press Secretary George Little at a news conference, adding that he would also meet the Japanese foreign minister.
"The US-Japan alliance has been a cornerstone of security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region for more than 50 years. And as part of our re-balancing effort, we are making new investments in the alliance for the 21st century," Little said.
"He looks forward to discussing a wide range of issues with his Japanese counterpart. We have an unwavering commitment to the Japanese alliance and to Japanese security. And it makes sense when you're in that neighbourhood to stop by and visit your good friends," he said.
From Japan, Panetta would travel to China at the invitation of the Chinese Minister of National Defence General Liang, who visited the United States in May.
"The visit provides an opportunity to deepen the military-to-military engagements between China and the United States. The United States and China continue to work together to establish healthy, stable, reliable and continuous military-to-military ties," he said.
Lastly, Panetta will travel to New Zealand; where he will be the first US defence secretary to visit in over 30 years.
"The trip follows the signing of the Washington declaration in June between the secretary and Minister of Defence Coleman," Little said.
"The declaration provides a framework for cooperation to focus, strengthen and expand the bilateral defence relationship. While in New Zealand, Secretary Panetta will lay a wreath at the World War II Hall of Memories to remember the sacrifices of the New Zealand defence force in that war and most recently in Afghanistan," he said.