Xi Jinping

Vice-President Xi Jinping to meet US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta

Leader-in-waiting faces tough session with the US defence secretary in Beijing after Washington agrees to expand Tokyo's missile defences

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2012, 10:23am

Vice-President Xi Jinping will meet US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta in Beijing tomorrow - a session announced just hours after the Pentagon chief risked angering China with a new deal to expand Japan's missile defences.

The meeting, confirmed by US officials, will be president-in-waiting Xi's first with a foreign leader since he dropped from view for two weeks amid intense speculation about his health and the leadership transition.

Xi missed four scheduled meetings with foreign officials before reappearing at an event on Saturday.

Within hours of boarding his plane last night, Panetta risked deepening China's fears over the US military "pivot" back to the region with the provision of a second radar installation for Japan.

While Panetta's staff repeatedly insisted the move was geared to preventing North Korean missiles reaching Japan or the US, the news was already alarming Chinese military analysts and scholars.

Xu Guangyu , a senior researcher at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association in Beijing, said Panetta had used "deceitful words".

He said: "They [will] target China as the missile defence system is able to provide 360 degrees of coverage.

"Russia opposed the US plan to set up a defence system in eastern Europe, which Washington claimed would only target Iran … but the location of the system is so close to Moscow."

Pentagon officials said the additional radar - to be based at an unconfirmed location in southern Japan - would free up US naval ships equipped with Aegis systems, which are crucial to its evolving ballistic missile defences, to cover wider areas.

The US has been discreetly working to extend the system to better cover its allies South Korea and Australia - something being closely monitored in Beijing. A study produced by the Congressional Research Service last month noted that the US keeps five Aegis ships at Yokosuka in Japan as part of 16 in the Pacific.

They are state-of-the-art vessels that could soon spread more broadly across East Asia. Japan also has its own such Aegis ships.

Shi Yinhong , an expert in US affairs at Renmin University, said the meeting between Xi and Panetta would be crucial.

"This is the first meeting between Xi and a foreign leader in two weeks and this implies that Xi still pays high regard to the Sino-US relationship," he said.

Shi said Xi and Panetta would also inevitably discuss the ongoing territorial disputes between Beijing and Tokyo over the East China Sea.

A senior Pentagon official said Panetta wanted to "start looking forward to maintaining ties with what could be future leaders of China".

The official added: "This … reflects a continuation of a dialogue that Secretary Panetta began when he hosted the vice-president at the Pentagon earlier this year."