Chinese leader-in-waiting meets Panetta

2012-09-19 09:00
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping shakes hands with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Larry Downing/ AFP)

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping shakes hands with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Larry Downing/ AFP)

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Beijing - China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping, whose disappearance from public view for two weeks this month prompted widespread rumours, on Wednesday met visiting US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.

Xi, flanked by several Chinese military officers, shook hands with the Pentagon chief in a frenzy of flashes at a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, an AFP reporter saw.

It was Xi's first public meeting with a foreign dignitary since he re-emerged at the weekend having vanished for a fortnight at a highly sensitive time, with China gearing up for a generational handover of power.

The Chinese vice-president looked relaxed and healthy, and wore a dark blue suit with a pale blue tie.

Xi smiled as he sat next to Panetta under grand chandeliers with a vast mural on the wall behind them, and said that seeing the American "reminds me of my visit to the United States" in February.

"I sincerely wish your visit will be a good success and I believe that your visit will be very helpful in further advancing the state to state and military-to-military relations between our two countries," he added.

No reason for disappearance


Panetta responded that it was an "honour to have the opportunity to visit with you here" and he looked forward to discussing promoting security ties between "two great Pacific nations".

Xi's unexplained disappearance had attracted global attention, as well as speculation on China's popular but heavily censored microblogs, with theories about his health ranging from backache to a heart attack.

He has been widely tipped to succeed President Hu Jintao as leader of the ruling Communist Party at a crucial meeting that is expected to be held later this autumn, before taking over as head of state in March next year.

During his absence earlier this month he cancelled meetings with four foreign dignitaries, including visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

His first public appearance came on Saturday, when he was shown on state television visiting a university.

The lengthy footage, along with reports on the official news agency Xinhua, did not give a reason for his disappearance.

During it foreign ministry officials had repeatedly avoided questions on the subject.

Read more on:    xi jinping  |  hillary clinton  |  leon panetta  |  china  |  us
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