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Defense minister in crucial tour of US

By Cui Haipei, Tan Yingzi  (China Daily)

08:11, May 07, 2012

A landmark visit to the United States by the defense minister will help defuse the tense situation in the South China Sea, analysts said, as the standoff between China and the Philippines continues in waters off Huangyan Island.

Liang Guanglie, the first defense minister to visit the US in nine years, will meet his counterpart, Leon Panetta, in Washington on Monday.

Su Hao, director of the center for strategic and conflict management at the China Foreign Affairs University, said Liang will discuss Beijing's stance on the South China Sea during his six-day visit.

Manila declared on Thursday that Panatag Shoal is its preferred name for Huangyan Island.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said, when asked if the preferred name was meant to assert the country's claim over the shoal, that "brevity" was the reason for the new name.

Liang might require the US to play a more constructive role on South China Sea disputes, and particularly on the standoff over Huangyan Island, Su said.

Manila tried to arrest Chinese fishermen near the island, situated in Chinese territorial waters, last month.

The focus is shifting from Northeast Asia to the South China Sea, Su said.

Liang should tell the US that the South China Sea has the potential to spark conflict, he said.

The defense minister will also visit San Diego naval base, the Southern Command in Florida, Fort Benning in Georgia, the 4th Fighter Wing in North Carolina, West Point academy and other military sites.

The visit should help reduce potential areas of misunderstanding, said Yin Zhuo, a Beijing-based military expert.

Su also pointed out that two commanders, from the Shenyang and Xinjiang military regions, are accompanying Liang.

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