Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping both said at the outset of a meeting here this morning that the secretary’s visit to China will advance cooperation between the two nations’ militaries.
Xi is widely considered as the top prospect to be China’s next president when the government transitions in 2013. He hosted Panetta at the Sept. 19 meeting in the Great Hall of the People, just west of Tiananmen Square.
During a short open-media period at the beginning of the meeting, the vice president welcomed the secretary and said he believes Panetta’s visit “will be very helpful in further advancing the state-to-state and military-to-military relations between our two countries.”
Panetta responded that he is honored to visit China, as he was honored to host Xi at the Pentagon during the vice president’s visit to the United States in February. He added he appreciates Xi’s support in encouraging closer military coordination between the two countries.
“We are two great Pacific nations with common concerns,” the secretary said. “We want to begin what you have called a new new-model relationship, and we can begin with better military-to-military relations. I am confident that we will be able to improve our dialogue, our communication and our security together.”
Speaking to U.S. and Chinese reporters later in the day, the secretary said the vice president – who had been out of the public eye for some weeks before last weekend, and whose health had been the subject of intense speculation – had been “very engaged” during their meeting.
“We were scheduled to [meet] for about 45 minutes. We went a half hour or more beyond [that] in the discussion,” Panetta said.
The secretary said Xi impressed him at this meeting, as in their earlier Pentagon meeting, as someone who speaks frankly and “from the heart.”
Panetta said he was impressed with Xi’s directness and believes the vice president sincerely wants to work toward a better relationship with the United States.
Shortly after his meeting with Xi, the secretary gave a speech at the People’s Liberation Army Armored Forces’ engineering academy. He was the first defense secretary to visit the academy.
Before leaving China, Panetta is scheduled to visit the eastern port city of Qingdao, where he will meet with the commander of China’s North Sea Fleet.
Panetta began this trip to Asia, his third, with a stop in Japan, and will conclude the trip with a visit to New Zealand, the first by a U.S. defense secretary in 30 years.