U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited China's sole aircraft carrier on Monday in an unprecedented opening by normally secretive Beijing to a potent symbol of its military buildup.
A U.S. official said the visit to the carrier the Liaoning, at a port in the northern city of Qingdao, lasted about two hours. No other details were immediately available.
The official believed Hagel was the first official visitor from outside China to be allowed on board the Liaoning, although that could not be immediately confirmed.
China's Defence Ministry confirmed the visit would happen but did not provide details.
Chinese security experts said Beijing could be trying to quell U.S. criticism that it was not transparent about its military modernization.
Hagel's carrier visit, at the start of his three-day trip to China, was quietly approved by Beijing at Washington's request, the U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The 60,000-tonne Liaoning, a Soviet-era vessel bought from Ukraine in 1998 and re-fitted in a Chinese shipyard, is seen as a symbol of China's growing naval power and ambition for greater global influence.
The carrier has yet to become fully operational, however, and military experts say it could be decades before China catches up to the far superior and larger U.S. carriers - if ever.
"The carrier has yet to become fully operational" eh? They said the same thing about the second Death Star, too...