BEIJING — The top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen will visit China next month, Beijing said on Wednesday, pledging to help improve sometimes rocky relations with Washington.

Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, will visit from July 9-13, Xinhua news agency quoted defence ministry spokesman Yang Yajun as saying. Mullen's counterpart Chen Bingde visited Washington in May.

"China will promote the advancement of relations between the two military forces under the framework of China-US ties," Xinhua quoted Yang as saying.

Yang further congratulated Leon Panetta, who was confirmed by the US Senate as the new defence secretary to replace Robert Gates, Xinhua said.

The announcement of Mullen's visit comes after the United States and the Philippines launched 11 days of joint naval exercises on Tuesday amid a simmering maritime row over territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Manila and Washington emphasised the exercises were aimed at deepening defence ties, and not linked to the rising concern about China's allegedly aggressive actions in the strategic and potentially resource-rich waters.

As tensions in the South China Sea have mounted, China-US military exchanges have also quickened pace with Gates meeting Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie in Singapore in early June, following a January visit to Beijing.