In a significant reciprocal visit, a top Chinese general launched his first US trip with a tour of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in San Diego, California, on Tuesday.
Analysts said the five-day visit, which will be accorded red-carpet treatment, signals willingness by the Chinese and United States militaries to improve ties and keep channels of contact open amid simmering maritime tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.
Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, accompanied by the head of the US military's Pacific Command Samuel Locklear, was shown around the nuclear-powered carrier. Fang also visited combat ship USS Coronado.
The visits came just one month after US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel became the first foreign visitor to China's aircraft carrier the Liaoning.
Senior Chinese officers are no strangers to US warships, including aircraft carriers, with PLA navy chief Wu Shengli visiting the carrier Carl Vinson last year. But Fang's visit was still significant, observers said.
On Thursday, Fang will be welcomed by top US military officer Martin Dempsey at the Pentagon in an arrival ceremony conducted with full military honors. On Friday, he will become the first Chinese officer to visit the US Army Forces Command in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Zhao Xiaozhuo, deputy director of the Center for China-US Defence Relations at the PLA Academy of Military Science, said the reciprocal hospitality showed both countries' growing mutual trust.
"The attitude, either cooperative or confrontational, that they take toward each other will decide the future of the Asia-Pacific region," Zhao said.