| BEIJING, Sept 19
BEIJING, Sept 19 China's leader-in-waiting Xi
Jinping held on Wednesday his first talks with a foreign
official since vanishing from the public eye nearly two weeks
ago, telling U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta he wanted to
advance ties with the United States.
Vice-President Xi's disappearance had prompted widespread
rumours that he was ill or worse ahead of this year's
five-yearly Communist Party Congress when he is expected to be
named party chief.
"I believe that your visit will be very helpful in further
advancing the state-to-state and mil-to-mil
(military-to-military) relations between our two countries," Xi
told Panetta during a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of
Panetta's visit has come at a fraught time for China which
is in the midst of an escalating row with U.S. ally Japan over
who owns a small group of islands in the East China Sea. The
dispute has triggered widespread anti-Japanese protests in China
in the past few days.
Critics in China believe that a U.S. move to shift its
strategic focus to the region has encouraged countries like
Japan to be more bold when dealing with Beijing.
But Panetta, in remarks later to cadets at a Chinese
military academy, sought to convince Beijing that the shift in
focus was not an attempt to hem in China, whose neighbours have
expressed concern about its expanding military reach.
Panetta told students at the Armored Forces Engineering
Academy that expanding U.S. missile defenses in Asia were aimed
at North Korea, not China, and that deepening U.S. defense ties
with allies in the region were to reinforce a security system
that had helped China flourish.
"Our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is not an attempt
to contain China," he said. "It is an attempt to engage China
and expand its role in the Pacific. It is about creating a new
model in the relationship of two Pacific powers."
Panetta's remarks echoed the message he has delivered in
meetings with defense and political leaders during his three-day
But the message is difficult to sell to a sceptical Chinese
audience concerned about U.S. missile defenses in Japan,
expanding military ties with the Philippines and suspicion that
Washington wants military access to Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam.
"The Chinese just don't buy it. They are not convinced,"
said Bonnie Glaser, a China analyst at the Center for Strategic
and International Studies, a Washington think-tank.
"Moreover they see the U.S. as emboldening nations like
Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam who have territorial disputes
with China to directly confront Beijing," she said.
Panetta has said the United States takes no position in the
territorial dispute between Japan and China, though acknowledges
U.S. defense obligations in the event of an attack on Japan.
Panetta said that while Washington and Beijing would not
always agree on issues, it was important to look beyond the
disagreements to areas where they could work cooperatively
"We cannot let those disagreements and challenges blind us
to the great opportunities that exist," he said. "If we work
together and cooperate together, we can solve problems
Panetta said to do that, the United States and China needed
to focus on building confidence and understanding between their
two militaries by enhancing the quality and frequency of their
dialogue and interaction.
He cited combating terrorism, responding to natural
disasters, ensuring maritime security and preventing the spread
of weapons of mass destruction, piracy and drug trafficking as
areas where the U.S. and Chinese militaries could cooperate to
their mutual benefit.