BEIJING -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will make his first visit to China as Pentagon chief in a couple of weeks at a time when the nations are increasingly at odds over how Beijing should resolve its territorial disputes.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said Thursday Panetta will visit China in mid-September.

Panetta's visit comes after he hosted his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Liang Guanglie, in May in Washington.

Geng says the two militaries are separately in talks to hold anti-piracy sea drills.

China and the United States have disagreed over the handling of competing territorial claims in the South China Sea among China and several of its neighbors. Washington has criticized China's establishment of a military garrison. China says it wants to handle disputes bilaterally, not multilaterally.

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