American Defence Secretary William Cohen arrives in Beijing next week for his long-awaited first visit to the mainland. Mr Cohen's trip to the capital, from January 17 to 20, is part of a seven-nation Asian tour aimed at reasserting the United States' role in the region's security and persuading economically ailing allies to keep buying American military hardware. The mainland leg will form the central core of the tour, postponed from last November due to the Iraq crisis. Mr Cohen, who is likely to meet President Jiang Zemin as well as his counterpart General Chi Haotian and senior PLA officials, will sign the maritime 'rules of the road' agreement forged at last October's Sino-US summit. It will put in place protocols for communication to prevent accidental hostilities between US and Chinese vessels in waters off the mainland. Also on the agenda will be Washington's desire for the PLA to be clearer about its budget and modernisation plans, plus talks on military personnel exchanges, training and possible joint exercises in humanitarian operations. Mr Cohen will ask his hosts to continue allowing US naval visits to Hong Kong. Another key issue is that of Beijing's concerns over the recent US-Japan security arrangement. Mr Cohen will also visit Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.