US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged closer military ties between the two superpowers in the Pacific during talks with Chinese officials in Beijing, Asahi Shimbun reports.

Mr. Panetta told Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie that closer military exchanges between Beijing and Washington could “reduce the risk of confrontation”, claiming that it would be “the most important bilateral relationship in the world”. The rising superpower has been secretive of its military which made the US suspicious of China’s military buildup that could threaten to surpass its military might, particularly in Asia Pacific.

The Pentagon official’s visit came amid mounting tensions between Japan and China over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Mr. Panetta, speaking ahead of his trip to Asia, warned that the diplomatic spats could embroil the region into war and urged Japan and China to defuse tensions. However, Mr. Panetta addressed other regional issues during his visit to Beijing, underlining “common concerns” such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation, humanitarian relief, drug trafficking and peace keeping among others.

Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters: “We hope that the US will truly abide by the principle of not taking sides over the question of who the Diaoyu islands belong to.”