The US defense head is in Beijing to allay Chinese concerns it aims to curtail China's regional military power. The visit comes at a tense time, with China and Japan at odds over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met China's leader-in-waiting and vice president Xi Jinping on Wednesday, in a visit which coincides with escalating tensions between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Xi Jinping, who had conspicuously disappeared from the public eye for two weeks this month fuelling a frenzy of rumors, shook hands with the American defense secretary in front of the cameras in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
With mounting uneasiness about China's standoff with Japan in the Pacific, America's Pentagon chief tried to reassure China over its deployment of an American radar to Japan to bolster its missile arsenal. Panetta said this was a response to North Korea's ballistic missile system and not aimed at Beijing.
Meanwhile the Chinese news agency Xinhua on Wednesday reported clashes between Chinese ships and Japanese coast guardsmen around the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea.
Ten Chinese ships were in the field and six vessels, along with surveillance aircraft, had been dispatched by Japan, the news agency reported.
The reports will only add to uncertainty about deteriorating relations between Beijing and Tokyo after boisterous anti-Japan demonstrations broke out in China on Tuesday. The protests had been sparked by Japan's decision to buy islands that China claims to own in the East China Sea.
US: more Chinese power, not less
American Defense Secretary Panetta also addressed growing Chinese suspicion of US interests in the Pacific region while in Beijing on Wednesday. Panetta insisted that Washington's shifting military focus towards the Asia Pacific was not part of a strategy to curb Chinese power.
"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," Panetta said, directly addressing young Chinese officers and cadets at a military engineering academy.
"It's about creating a new model in the relationship of our two Pacific powers,” he said.
“Our goal is to make sure that no dispute or misunderstanding escalates into unwanted tensions or a conflict," Panetta added.
China and the United States have been at odds over navigation rights and territorial claims in the western Pacific, due to Beijing's various disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
sej/rg (dpa, AP, AFP)