Washington (CNN) -- Amid continuing tensions between the U.S. and China, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen is heading to Beijing, the Pentagon confirmed Friday.
His visit comes after reports of a U.S. Navy exercise with Japan and Australia in the South China Sea, set for Saturday, that could spark new criticism from Beijing.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said Mullen would discuss a wide range of security issues when he meets with Chinese officials, including Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army Chen Bingde's, who visited Washington in May.
Mullen also is expected to visit units of the Chinese army, mirroring what he showed Chen at U.S. military facilities.
The visit is part of an effort by both sides to increase mutual understanding despite the divisive issues of arms sales to Taiwan, U.S. meetings with the Dalai Lama -- who was in Washington this week -- and U.S. military exercises that China opposes.
China repeatedly has objected to outside naval operations in areas it claims as its own territory.
Lapan said Friday the destroyer USS Preble will take part in an exercise Saturday with Japanese and Australian vessels off the coast of Brunei. Such events "generally include communications and navigation drills, (and) are routinely coordinated with other navies when ships are in the vicinity of one another," he said.