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Panetta Reassures China on Military Moves

Published: September 19, 2012 | 7:02 am
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BEIJING—Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping met with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday, in the first high-level public meeting for China’s presumed next president since canceling visits with other foreign officials in recent weeks.

Mr. Xi, 59 years old, appeared with Mr. Panetta at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People as part of a visit that the U.S. hopes will help cool regional territorial tensions and reassure China about its shifting its military focus to the Asia-Pacific region. “I believe that your visit will be very helpful in advancing the state-to-state and military-to-military relationship between our two countries,” Mr. Xi said.

Mr. Panetta said he is confident that the U.S. and China will be able to improve their communication and dialogue. “We are two great Pacific nations,” Mr. Panetta said. “We want to begin what you have called a new model relationship.”

In a speech later Wednesday, Mr. Panetta asserted that the U.S. military shift toward Asia isn’t an attempt to contain China, and he rejected the idea that the rise of China “will inevitably put it into conflict” with the U.S.

Mr. Xi appeared healthy in his meeting with Panetta, which was briefly open to the media. His appearance is likely a signal that China’s once-a-decade power transition is on track. As part of that transition, which is likely to begin in coming weeks, Mr. Xi is expected to succeed President Hu Jintao.

His disappearance from public view at the beginning of the month sparked rumors that China’s next top leader could be ill with back or heart problems. After last appearing in public Sept. 1, he canceled meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as the prime ministers of Singapore and Denmark.

Mr. Panetta is on a three-day visit to China aimed at improving military-to-military ties, addressing Chinese concerns about the U.S. reinvestment in Asian security and tamping down territorial disputes between Beijing and U.S. regional allies. It comes as the U.S. has moved to add new missile defenses and build up forces in the Asia-Pacific region.

In a speech at the Armored Engineering Academy in Beijing on Wednesday, Mr. Panetta said his message was that the U.S. was placing a renewed focus on Asia because the region was critical to its economic, diplomatic and security interests, not because Washington sees Beijing as a threat.

“Our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is not an attempt to contain China,” Mr. Panetta said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. “It is an attempt to engage China and expand its role in the

Pacific.”

Mr. Panetta said the U.S. wanted to create a new model for the relationship with China. Like his predecessors, Mr. Panetta emphasized that the U.S. requires a stable military-to-military relationship with China.

In his speech, Mr. Panetta praised China’s rise as bringing millions out of poverty and contributing to a strong world economy. “I believe that it can also make the world a more secure place, if we work together to build an enduring foundation for military-to-military relations between the United States and China,” Mr. Panetta said.

He invoked former President Richard Nixon’s visit to China, and the new era of U.S.-Chinese relations it opened up, but noted the “journey is not complete.”

He said the U.S. and China must be “clear-eyed” about difficulties in the relationship, and realize that the two countries won’t always agree.

Still, Mr. Panetta said the U.S. and Chinese militaries must look for opportunities to cooperate and communicate more frequently. “We cannot let those disagreements and challenges blind us to the great opportunities that exist,” Mr. Panetta said. “If we work together and cooperate together, we can solve problems together.”

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