The top US military commander in the Asia-Pacific region is scheduled to visit the mainland from Sunday, the day after legislative elections in Taiwan, which look set to fuel cross-strait tensions. Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of US forces in the Pacific, will meet officials from the Central Military Commission and the People's Liberation Army's General Staff Department to discuss issues including cross-strait relations, Xinhua reported yesterday. The talks will be held at a time when relations are at their most volatile in four years, following the bitter fight between Taiwan's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party and the relatively mainland-friendly Kuomintang for a majority of seats in the legislature. The elections are being seen as a litmus test for the island's presidential election on March 22. Admiral Keating has publicly said that a referendum on UN membership under the name Taiwan being advocated by President Chen Shui-bian was 'rhetoric that isn't entirely helpful'. But he also said that the US could swiftly move forces to defend Taiwan. During his second visit to the mainland since taking over as commander of Pacific forces last year, Admiral Keating will also meet Foreign Ministry officials. Sino-US military relations and other international issues concerning both countries would also be discussed, Xinhua added. The trip will take him to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and then Hong Kong, where he will discuss Sino-US ties at an Asia Society event on Thursday of next week. Though his official schedule in the city is still unavailable, any remarks from Admiral Keating on the controversy over the USS Kitty Hawk's aborted port call in November look set to be the centre of attention. He has said Beijing's decision to turn the aircraft carrier away from a scheduled port visit to Hong Kong was perplexing and troublesome. Yesterday's report by Xinhua, which cited a ministry spokesman, also indicated that the Ministry of National Defence had set up a bureau to deal with media affairs.