TOKYO — The U.S. Navy’s top officer will visit China later this month to watch firsthand as the country celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Chinese navy.

The announcement of Adm. Gary Roughead’s visit came April 1 from London, where President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao met on the eve of a worldwide economic summit and declared their mutual goal of improving the economy and relations between the two countries, according to a White House statement.

The invitation to Roughead is not unusual. Both countries have exchanged visits between military leaders and naval ships for years. They have participated in joint exercises in the past decade, and the two navies have been part of a worldwide effort to stem piracy off the coast of Africa, said Lt. Jessica Gandy, a spokeswoman for Roughead.

Roughead himself has visited China before and has known his counterpart, Adm. Wu Shengli, for two years, Gandy said.

But the visit also comes on the heels of five Chinese vessels shadowing a civilian-run U.S. surveillance ship on March 8 in the South China Sea.

The incident prompted strong criticism from U.S. military leaders. Moreover, it signaled that as China continues to show its national pride at sea, the U.S. continues to argue its right to free navigation as a global superpower, according to Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, a research organization founded by Congress to study Asia, the Pacific and the United States.

"It is easy to foresee these incidents continuing and worsening in the future," Roy said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. "If the two sides could work out an understanding to forestall this, that alone would make Adm. Roughead’s visit a major success."

Roughead will attend China’s International Fleet Review along with Vice Adm. John Bird, the U.S. Seventh Fleet commander, Gandy said. The destroyer USS Fitzgerald also will participate in the review, she said.

Earlier last week, Obama and Hu agreed to continue more friendly military exchanges. They also agreed to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and to address both Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Sudan’s humanitarian issues, according to the White House statement.

In this decade, China’s gross domestic product has more than doubled. Its budget for the People’s Liberation Army has kept the same pace, growing from $27.9 billion in 2000 to $60.1 billion in 2008, according to an annual report on China released by the Department of Defense late last month.

The U.S. military’s budget for 2009 provided for more than $515 billion in discretionary spending, up 7.5 percent from the previous year, according to the Defense Department.

China’s higher spending is in part going toward development of a new class of nuclear-powered, ballistic-missile carrying submarine and aircraft carriers, the report said. Its electronic warfare capacity and air force capabilities are on par with adversaries or making gains, the report said.

At the same time, the country’s military is hampered by its ability to fix and supply ships at sea and to refuel aircraft in the air, according to the report.

And while China has gained strides in its ability to knock out satellite communications and continues to strengthen its nuclear arsenal and adapt its military strategy for asymmetrical battlegrounds, it remains limited by its ability to work cohesively within its own services structure, the report said.

Since September 2007, the country has had at least 18 joint exercises to combat that weakness, the report said.

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