BEIJING — Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he leaves a three-day China visit convinced that its leaders are ready to move forward with improving military ties, despite some hiccups.

"We’ve had a really good week," Gates said Wednesday at the Great Wall of China. "I think the discussions were very productive and set the stage for taking the military-to-military relationship to the next level."

On a trip where every detail has been scrutinized as a litmus test of China’s sincerity, Gates said he was pleased with how Chinese military leaders received him and his message.

On his last day here, Gates had a "very candid" visit with China’s Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, commander of the Second Artillery Corps and the nuclear arsenal.

"There was a discussion of nuclear strategy and their overall approach to conflict," Gates said. "We talked about their no-first-use policy. We talked about command and control. ... I felt like it was a pretty wide-ranging conversation. Pretty open."

Gates met with virtually every important senior Chinese leader, from President Hu Jintao down the complex chain of China’s political and military command. Hu will travel to Washington next week for a state visit. Gates’ trip was meant to set a cordial atmosphere.

Before Gates’ trip, some China experts said if he landed meetings with the right leaders, it would be a clear sign the People’s Liberation Army was taking his pleas for transparency seriously.

Jing accepted Gates’ invitation to visit the headquarters of the U.S. nuclear arsenal at Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

"I think this is part of the step-by-step process of building this relationship," Gates said.

But while military leaders appeared ready to get on with exchanges, maritime exercises and more talks, no dates were announced.

And China’s military held a test flight of its newly revealed stealth fighter shortly before Gates met with Hu.

Gates said China’s civilian leadership "seemed surprised" by the test, confirming what defense officials said at the time, but said he leaves "encouraged" by the civilian leadership.

Before leaving China, Gates rode a cable car to the top of the Great Wall.

Looking around, he quipped, "I was last at the Wall in 1980. It’s still as awesome as then. Though it hasn’t changed much."

Gates’ next stop is Tokyo, where he’ll meet with Japan Prime Minster Naoto Kan, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara on Thursday. On Friday, he will deliver a speech at Keio University and stop in Seoul to meet Prime Minster Kim Hwang-sik and recently appointed Defense Minister Lee Hee-Won before departing for home.

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