China’s Xi Jinping Meets Panetta Following Two-Week Absence

U.S. Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta and Chinese VP Xi Jinping
Leon Panetta, U.S. Secretary of Defense, left, meets with Xi Jinping, China's Vice President at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on September 19, 2012. Photographer Larry Downing-Pool/Getty Images

China’s Vice President Xi Jinping, in line to become the country’s next president, met with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing today, his first announced appearance with a foreign visitor after being absent in public for about two weeks.

Panetta told Xi that he appreciates his “support in encouraging better military-to-military relations between our two countries.” Panetta announced yesterday that the U.S. would invite a Chinese ship to participate in a 2014 naval exercise off the coast of Hawaii.

Xi previously canceled a Sept. 5 meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other foreign leaders. The dearth of information about his whereabouts prompted speculation about his health and who else might step in to oversee the world’s most populous nation and second-biggest economy, which undergoes a leadership change this year.

Tung Chee-hwa, the former Hong Kong chief executive who is a vice-chairman of an advisory body to China’s legislature, said today on CNN that Xi had injured his back in a sports accident and had recovered. Tung said he believed the injury was sustained when Xi was swimming.

Panetta and Xi met in a ceremonial room at the Great Hall, which overlooks Tiananmen Square and is used for hosting state visits and for sessions of China’s legislature. Wearing a dark blue suit and a light blue tie, Xi appeared healthy and shook hands with Panetta before greeting other U.S. officials.

‘Model Relationship’

“I believe that your visit will be very helpful in advancing the state-to-state and military-to-military relationship between our countries,” Xi told Panetta.

China and the U.S. are “two great Pacific nations with common concerns,” Panetta said. “We want to begin what you’ve called a new model relationship. And we can begin with better military-to-military relations.”

Xi visited the China Agricultural University on Sept. 15 after his unexplained absence. This year’s leadership transition has already been complicated by the downfall of Bo Xilai, who had been a candidate for appointment as one of China’s top leaders before he was removed as party chief of the municipality of Chongqing in March.

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