United States Army chief visits China amid missile system tensions

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BEIJING (AP) — The U.S. Army chief of staff was visiting China on Tuesday amid tensions over American ally South Korea’s decision to deploy a powerful missile defense system and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Gen. Mark A. Milley was due to meet Tuesday with his Chinese counterpart and other senior People’s Liberation Army leaders to discuss issues of concern and “identify ways to deepen practical cooperation in areas of mutual interest while also constructively managing differences,” the Army said in a news release.

Milley will also visit the PLA’s Academy of Military Science to exchange views with faculty and students.

China has stridently objected to a decision to base the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system south of the South Korean capital Seoul, believing its X-Band radar is intended to track missiles inside China. The U.S. says the system is intended to destroy potential North Korean missiles.

Chinese state media have published daily attacks against the U.S. and South Korea, and China has canceled events involving South Korean entertainers. China also appears to be withholding support at the United Nations for condemnations of North Korea’s missile programs.

Milley’s visit also comes amid frictions following an international arbitration panel’s ruling last month that invalidated China’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea. China angrily rejected the verdict and has vowed to continue developing man-made islands that the U.S. says have exacerbated tensions in the strategically crucial region.

Highlighting the issue, the interior minister of Taiwan, one of the six governments to claim territory in the South China Sea, planned to travel to Taiping Island where it maintains a garrison.

The visit is “aimed at understanding climate change issues as well as underscoring Taiwan’s sovereignty,” the official Central News Agency quoted Taiwanese officials as saying.

Tensions have also spiked in recent days between China and Japan over a chain of uninhabited islands controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. Japan last week called in the Chinese ambassador to protest over a large increase in the number of Chinese coast guard and fishing ships operating in waters surrounding the islands, called the Senkakus by Japan and Diaoyu by China.

Following his Beijing meetings, Milley will travel to South Korea to meet with U.S. Army troops and hold discussions with Korean military leaders on the THAAD deployment and other issues. He will then travel on to another key U.S. ally and Chinese rival, Japan.

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