- Hagel visited the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning on Monday
- Trip described as "significant," U.S. asked for visit
- The Liaoning aircraft carrier will be able to carry 30 J-15 fighter planes, Chinese media reports
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning at the Yuchi Naval Base at Qingdao on Monday, becoming the first foreigner allowed on board. The Department of Defense confirmed that the trip happened because of a U.S. request.
"The secretary was very pleased with his visit today aboard the carrier Liaoning," Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.
The Secretary was impressed with the professionalism with the ship's officers and crew, Kirby added, and said that Hagel understood the significance of the PLA's granting of his request.
The tour lasted about two hours, and included a briefing, after which Hagel saw medical and living quarters, as well as the flight control center and bridge. Hagel also took a walking tour of the flight deck and launch stations.
Hagel's visit suggests that U.S. efforts to encourage greater U.S.-China military ties are bearing some fruit.
"He hopes today's visit is a harbinger of other opportunities to improve our military-to-military dialogue and transparency," the press secretary said.
The visit comes as China has deployed a huge force to aid in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane far from its territorial waters.
In late 2012, China announced that it had landed a fighter jet on the deck of the aircraft carrier for the first time.
The Liaoning will be able to carry 30 J-15 fighter planes and will have a crew of 2,000, according to a People's Daily Online report published when it completed its first sea trials in August 2011.
China bought the shell of the carrier, then called the Varyag, from Ukraine in 1998. Its construction began under the Soviet military before the breakup of the Soviet Union.