WASHINGTON — A top Chinese military official plans to visit a Boeing factory during a US swing next week, Defense News has learned.
General Fan Changlong, the vice-chairman of China's Central Military Commission, will also visit three military bases and tour an aircraft carrier as part of his travels, which come a week after US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter slammed China for actions he called "out of step" with other nations in the Pacific.
A Boeing spokesman declined to comment, directing questions to the Pentagon. A Pentagon spokesman confirmed the visit, which is planned to involve a stop at a non-military facility in the Seattle area.
Although the tour will just be for commercial purposes, it is nonetheless notable given China's reputation for attempting to steal industrial information on both military and non-military projects.
Two weeks ago, Carter used his keynote address at the annual IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, a gathering of defense officials from around the Pacific, to challenge China over land claims in the South China Sea.
Multiple times during his trip, Carter affirmed that the US does not respect Chinese attempts to broaden their sovereign territory through the development of man-made islands in the region.
China has claimed those lands, which the Pentagon estimates to be about 2,000 acres in size, as part of its territory, a move other nations in the region believe is a power grab to increase China's its control of the region. About 1,500 of those acres have been developed since January, showing the rapid acceleration of China's activities.
Speaking on background Friday, a senior defense official said the issue of the islands will be a major topic of discussion between Fan and Carter when they meet June 11 in DC.
"That will be central item on the agenda, and I'm sure we'll have the most candid possible discussion," the official said.
Cyber security, including hacking attempts on US military industrial firms, will also be discussed, the official said.
US officials have fingered Chinese hackers as the source of a recent attack on the Office of Personnel ManagementOfficer of Management and Budget, which exposed four million federal records last week.
Outside of DC, Fan will tour the US, including stops at Naval Station North Island, California; Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, followed by a tour of the USS Ronald Reagan; and Fort Hood in Texas.
"The cities were worked out partly on the basis of what we would like the Chinese to see and what they wanted to see," the official explained.
Asked whether the Pentagon is concerned with the Chinese attempting to gain technical knowledge during their tour of the US facilities, the spokesman said the department has safeguards in place.
"All military engagements with China are carefully considered and reviewed for compliance with relevant policies and regulations," the spokesman said. "The department maintains strict operational security safeguard to protect US technology, tactics techniques and procedures from disclosure."