Panetta's visit to China, which was extended from two days to three, and includes a meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, Pentagon officials said in a release.
He also will meet with Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie; State Counsel Dai Bingguo, roughly the equivalent to the U.S. national security adviser; and Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Xu Caihou, one Pentagon official who briefed reporters said.
A second Defense Department official said Panetta's visit to China, his first as defense secretary, offers proof of the progress the two countries have achieved in their military-to-military relationship.
"This is a relationship that has to be from a long-term perspective," the second official said, explaining that the interaction Panetta will have with Chinese military and civilian leaders advances U.S. goals of increasing transparency and openness between the two nations' officials.
Panetta will visit several military sites while in China, the Pentagon said, touring barracks, delivering a speech and dining with cadets at the People's Liberation Army's armored forces engineering academy. The Defense Department said Panetta's visit to the academy will be the first by a U.S. defense secretary.
Panetta also will visit Qingdao, home of the Chinese North Sea Fleet, the official added, where he will meet with the fleet commander and tour a frigate and a submarine.
Notable deaths of 2014 [PHOTOS]