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Panetta meets Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing

September 18, 2012 |  8:16 pm

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in Beijing

BEIJING -- Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta held talks Wednesday with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who had dropped out of sight for several weeks, leading to speculation that he had health problems or was involved in a leadership struggle.

A scheduled meeting between Xi and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on her visit to Beijing this month was canceled without explanation.

Reporters were briefly allowed into the vast meeting room where Xi and Panetta met.

The two sat in overstuffed armchairs, flanked by aides sitting along the walls. Smiling and looking vigorous, Xi greeted guests in the room.

"It is a great pleasure for me to see you again," Xi told Panetta. "I think [the visit] will be very successful in advancing" U.S.-Chinese relations.

Pentagon officials were informed only in the last week that Panetta would be able to see Xi, who is believed to support closer ties with the U.S., during the Defense secretary's three-day visit to China. 

The mystery surrounding Xi's disappearance illustrated how little the U.S. knows about China's secretive leadership and its internal maneuverings.

Panetta on Tuesday was taken to Zhongnanhai, a walled compound used by China's leaders in Beijing, for talks with other top national security officials. 

Xi is considered likely to take over as China's president this year. His appearance with Panetta at the Great Hall of the People was an indication that his succession is on track despite his disappearance. 

The Great Hall of the People is a few hundred yards from the mausoleum where Chairman Mao Tse-tung's corpse is kept on public view.

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-- David S. Cloud

Photo: A U.S. delegation led by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, second right, meets with Chinese officials in Beijing on Tuesday. Credit: Larry Downing / Associated Press

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