U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will extend his trip to China by a day to meet Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and tour the country’s fleet at the Qingdao port, a senior U.S. defense official said.
Panetta is scheduled to meet Xi Sept. 19 at the Great Hall of the People, the U.S. official told reporters on condition of anonymity because the meetings weren’t yet public. Xi’s almost two-week absence from the public eye, which ended when he spoke at an agricultural event Sept. 15, sparked speculation about his health.
The meeting with Xi, forecast to become China’s next president in a once-a-decade leadership transition this year, comes as China has questioned the motives behind the so-called rebalancing strategy in the Asia-Pacific that the Pentagon unveiled in January. Chinese military officials writing in state media have said the U.S. wants to contain China by positioning more military assets in the region.
Panetta’s meeting with Xi comes after the vice president canceled an event with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sept. 5. The meeting and port visit will be an opportunity for U.S. and Chinese officials to be more transparent with each other, the senior U.S. defense official said.
Panetta’s visit to Qingdao will be the first by a U.S. defense secretary. He will meet Vice Admiral Tian Zhong, commander of China’s North Fleet, and tour China’s newest frigate, the Type 054A, and a Type 039 diesel-electric submarine, the official said.
Panetta will meet with other top Chinese officials during his trip and plans to visit the Armored Force Engineering Academy, a training school for the People’s Liberation Army’s armor force, and speak to about 250 cadets, the official said.
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