Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta arrived in Beijing, China, Sept. 17 for a three-day visit after wrapping up a trip to Japan earlier in the day.
Two senior defense officials traveling with the secretary briefed reporters traveling with Panetta on the secretary’s planned schedule for China. He will spend three days here instead of the two originally planned, the first official said, as several trip details have firmed up since late last week.
The secretary is scheduled to meet with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on Sept. 19 at the Great Hall of the People, the first official said. The two met previously in February, and since Xi also is vice chairman of China’s central military commission, Panetta is very interested in furthering the relationship, the official said.
The secretary also will meet during the visit with Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie, who visited the Pentagon in May; State Counsel Dai Bingguo, who serves in a position roughly equivalent to the U.S. national security advisor; and Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Xu Caihou, the official added.
Panetta will visit several military sites while in China, the first official said. He will tour barracks, deliver a speech and eat lunch with cadets at the People’s Liberation Army’s armored forces engineering academy, the official added, noting Panetta’s visit there will be the first by a U.S. defense secretary.
The secretary also will travel to Qingdao, home of the Chinese North Sea Fleet, the official added. There he will meet with the fleet commander, Vice Adm. Qian Zhong, and will tour a frigate and a submarine, the official said.
The second official told reporters Panetta’s visit to China, his first as defense secretary, demonstrates progress in the two nations’ military-to-military relationship.
In his previous meeting with Liang, the second official said, Panetta talked about areas of potential cooperation. The meetings planned for this visit are an extension of that, the official added.
“This is a relationship that has to be from a long-term perspective,” the second official said, adding the high-level interaction Panetta will have with Chinese military and civilian leaders furthers the U.S. goals of increasing transparency and openness between the two nations’ officials.
The academy and ship visits offer “an opportunity to broaden and deepen contacts with the PLA” through exposure to rising generations of leaders within China’s forces, the second official said.
His high-level meetings will offer the secretary a chance to discuss the U.S. strategic rebalance with China’s leaders and listen to their concerns, the second official said.
The second official noted that as the secretary has repeatedly said, the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region aims to reach beyond military engagement – though that is an element of the strategy – and across governments.
The military plays a part in the rebalance, but Panetta hopes to explain it while in China in context with trade and diplomacy, the official added.
The second official acknowledged that discussions during the secretary’s visit likely will involve territorial disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
Earlier today in Japan, the secretary responded to several questions on the China-Japan dispute over waters around the Senkaku Islands. His message there was the same one he will carry to China, the second official said: the United States urges calm, restraint, and a peaceful resolution to territorial disputes in the waters of the Asia-Pacific region.