September 19, 2012 - 10:26 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - 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, Reuters reported.
Vice-President Xi's disappearance had prompted widespread rumors 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 the People.
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.
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 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 together.
"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 together."