After his unexplained absence sparked rumors of health problems, China’s leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping appeared well on Wednesday during talks with visiting US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Xi had disappeared from public eye since the start of the month, and only appeared in a state-run media report this past Saturday.
Today, after meeting with Xi, Panetta told reporters he looked to be healthy and very engaged. After Chinese authorities refused to explain Xi’s whereabouts, rumors started to fly on Chinese internet that Xi’s was in bad health, or may have even suffered an assassination attempt.
According to US officials, Xi and Panetta discussed issues ranging from North Korea and the Chinese regime’s maritime territorial disputes with neighboring countries.
China has been gripped by a wave of anti-Japanese protests in recent days, as the disputes over a chain of islands in the East China Sea escalated. Tensions surged after Japan announced it would purchase the islands, which it calls Senkaku, from its private owners last week.
During his meeting with Panetta, Xi warned Japan to, quote “rein in its behavior”, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
Panetta has been urging both Japan and China to reach a peaceful solution to the heated conflict.
Xi Jinping is tipped to take over as the next leader of the Chinese regime later this year. His mysterious disappearance for two weeks fueled speculations about the ongoing political power struggle within the Communist Party leadership.
US Defense Chief Leon Panetta met with his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie on Tuesday, during his three-day visit to China.
The pair told reporters afterwards they had candid discussions on a range of difficult issues, including arms sales to Taiwan, cyber security and the territorial dispute between China and Japan.
[Leon Panetta, United States Defense Secretary]:
"We have always tried to advance the security of the entire region, going all the way back to World War II. And so our purpose in being able to strengthen our presence in this region is to promote greater prosperity, to promote greater security in the Asia Pacific region. It is in both the interest of the United States and China to advance a strong Asia Pacific region that represents in many ways the future in the 21st century."
The US has been shifting it strategic focus to Asia Pacific, and urged Chinese leaders towards wider military relations, so as to avoid unnecessary confrontations.
Panetta’s visit comes as Japan and the Chinese regime are locked in a heated dispute over the Diaoyu, or Senkaku Islands. He urged both sides for calm, and called on them to maintain open channels of communication.
The Chinese regime had earlier called Japan’s move to purchase the chain of islands as “illegal’. Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said Beijing reserves the right to take further action against Japan, but would work towards a peaceful resolution.
Panetta is slated to meet with China’s leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping before he leaves Beijing.
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