The Liaoning aircraft carrier seen during trial run in 2011. Pic: AP.

TOKYO (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to get a rare tour of China’s first aircraft carrier Monday, becoming the first foreign visitor to go aboard the ship.

A senior defense official said Hagel requested the visit.

China spent a decade refurbishing the derelict Soviet-era carrier. It was commissioned as the Liaoning in 2012 and moved to Qingdao (ching-DOW’) the following year. It’s part of a major expansion of the Chinese navy that includes sophisticated new surface ships and submarines.

Hagel’s request for the tour came a day after telling reporters that China must better respect its neighbors, alluding to Beijing’s ongoing territorial dispute with Japan and others over remote islands in the East China Sea. He also has urged Beijing to be more transparent about its expanding military.

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