Wednesday May 27, 2020


September 19, 2012


United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was in Beijing this week for a three-day tour, his first visit to China as Secretary of Defense. On Tuesday, he met with Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie for what was described as a candid discussion of difficult issues confronting the United States and China. Panetta then met with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, expected to be named China’s next party chief and president at the upcoming 18th Party Congress, on Wednesday in Xi’s first public meeting with a foreign official since he disappeared from the public eye two weeks ago.

During his visit, Panetta emphasized the need for the United States and China to expand military relations. Military-to-military contacts between the PLA and the United States Armed Forces have historically been unstable, disrupted by disagreement over issues in the bilateral relationship. Most recently, China suspended military exchanges in response to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan in January of this year. Panetta argued that a stronger relationship between the Chinese and U.S. militaries was important in order to increase mutual trust and cooperation. Increased military-to-military ties would also help to enhance understanding about both sides’ defense policies and avoid potential miscalculation as the two militaries come into increasing contact with China’s military modernization and the United States’ rebalancing of defense forces towards the Asia-Pacific. Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie was in agreement, stating, “the two sides should, within the framework of building a China-U.S. cooperative partnership, promote a new type of military relations featuring equality, reciprocity and win-win cooperation in an active and pragmatic way.” In a step to build military-to-military ties, Panetta invited China to participate in the U.S.-sponsored Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in 2014. China had complained about being excluded from the naval exercises off Hawaii earlier this year, which included 22 nations.

Panetta also used his visit to Beijing as an opportunity to reassure the Chinese side about the intentions of the U.S. “pivot” to Asia. In a speech to cadets at a PLA engineering academy on Wednesday, Panetta explained, “our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is not an attempt to contain China”; rather, “it is about renewing and revitalizing our role in a part of the world that is rapidly becoming more critical to our economic, diplomatic and security interests.” Panetta’s meetings with Chinese political and defense officials also addressed the topics of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, cybersecurity, and the ongoing territorial dispute between Japan and China.

The U.S. Defense Secretary’s visit to the region has coincided with a period of increasing tension between China and Japan over disputed territory in the East China Sea. On Tuesday, Chinese protestors that had been demonstrating in front of the Japanese embassy surrounded U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke’s car as he tried to enter the nearby American embassy, prompting U.S. officials to complain to China’s Foreign Ministry. In his meeting with Vice President Xi, Panetta called for “calm and restraint by all sides” in the dispute, expressing his hope for peaceful resolution through negotiation while reiterating that the United States does not take a position in the dispute. The question of ownership of the East China Sea islands continues to evoke strong emotions in both Japan and China; Vice President Xi reportedly told Panetta during their meeting that the Japanese purchase of the contested islands was a “farce” and Tokyo should “rein in its behavior.”

Panetta’s visit to Beijing, falling ahead of a leadership transition in China and a presidential election in the United States, draws attention to the need for greater cooperation and understanding in U.S.-China relations. Both Panetta and his Chinese counterpart agreed on the need to develop military-to-military relations as part of the effort to build a stable and constructive U.S.-China relationship. Political pressures on both sides have led to some strain in bilateral relations, as President Obama has filed a number of trade complaints against China in the World Trade Organization, and China has been pointed in warning the United States to stay out of its territorial disputes with Japan and in the South China Sea. While acknowledging areas of difference and challenges present in U.S.-China relations, Panetta praised the positive momentum of military-to-military relations between the U.S. and China and the resumption of dialogue and exchanges. High level exchanges like Panetta’s meeting with military and political leaders in Beijing this week help to deepen mutual trust and understanding between China and the United States, which will serve as the foundation for a constructive bilateral relationship in years to come, throughout changes in leadership.



For more information on the Defense Secretary’s visit to Beijing and U.S.-China military relations, please see the following news sources:

BBC – “US defence chief Panetta warns on Asia territory rows

Reuters – “Panetta urges China to increase military contacts to avoid missteps

Reuters – “China’s Xi meets Panetta, wants better military ties with U.S.

USCPFChina Forum #77: U.S.-China Military Relations [Video]

Wall Street Journal – “China Tensions on the Rise

Washington Post – “As Panetta visits China, smiles and challenges

Xinhua – “China, U.S. enhance military relations


For Chinese language commentary on Defense Secretary Panetta’s visit to China, please see the following news sources:

Caixin (财新网) – “帕内塔:美国不会“选边站

Xinhua (新华网) – “帕内塔:美国邀请中国参加2014年环太平洋演习

Xinhua (新华网) – “美防长参访中国军校 冀两军加强合作减少误判




Compiled and edited by Amanda Watson.