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'US military focus on Pacific not aimed at containing China'


Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping meets US Defence Secretary Leon Penetta in Beijing on Wednesday. A Chinese MoD photo

BEIJING (PTI): The US has assured China that its military focus on Asia-Pacific is not aimed at containing Beijing as Defence Secretary Leon Penetta met a "healthy" Xi Jinping here, the first foreign leader to do so after China's leader-in-waiting mysteriously vanished from public view.

Panetta, who is on a four-day China visit, is the first foreign dignitary to hold talks in recent weeks with Xi, whose absence from political scene for about a fortnight this month sparked off rumours about his serious illness ahead of the leadership change in the ruling CPC.

Rumours about 59-year-old Xi's health started circulating after cancellation of his scheduled meeting with visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month.

"Frankly my impression was that he was very healthy and very engaged," Panetta told reporters after his meeting with Xi, who is set to succeed President Hu Jintao at the Congress of the ruling Communist Party which is expected to take place in the next few weeks.

Panetta's meeting with Xi, which was scheduled for 45 minutes, went beyond the allotted time, a day after the US Defence Secretary held talks with Chinese Defence Minister Gen Liang Guanglie.

Later, Panetta in his interaction with young Chinese military officers and cadets of the Engineering Academy of People's Liberation Army's (PLA's) Armoured Forces faced tough questions on China's disputes with Japan and other neighbours over maritime territorial boundaries.

"Our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is not an attempt to contain China. It is an attempt to engage China and expand its role in the Pacific," he said, defending America's 'Asia Pivot' policy which China said was aimed at containing its rise.

"It is about creating a new model in the relationship of two Pacific powers," Panetta said.

Looking relaxed and normal, Xi, during his meeting with Panetta, raised China's objections over Japan's "purchase" of the disputed islands, describing it as a farce being enacted by Tokyo.

"Japan should rein in its behaviour and stop any words and acts that undermine China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Xi told Panetta, who arrived in Beijing after a visit to Tokyo.

Outlining China's claims that the Diaoyu islands historically formed part of it, Xi said Japan's move to buy the islands from a private Japanese owner intensified the neighbours' territorial disputes.

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