China’s future leader appeared energetic Wednesday in a meeting with the US defence secretary, his first appearance with a foreign dignitary since dropping from public view and raising a flurry of questions about his health and turbulence in the succession process.
Vice president Xi Jinping and defence secretary Leon Panetta met for more than an hour to discuss US-China military relations, Pentagon press secretary George Little said.
Panetta said the meeting went over the allotted 45 minutes because Xi was so focused on finding a way to improve relations.
“Frankly my impression was that he was very healthy and very engaged,” he told reporters later in the day.
Video of the meeting shot by state broadcaster CCTV showed a robust-looking Xi shaking Panetta’s hand, posing for photos and smiling during their conversation. The report made no mention of Xi’s absence or any health issues.
While Panetta’s visit comes at a sensitive time for China and its relations with the US and regional neighbors, his meeting with Xi was closely scrutinised for any clues about the vice president’s prolonged absence, which ended Saturday when he appeared at an event for national science promotion day.
In addition to being China’s vice president, Xi is also a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission that oversees the 2.3 million-member People’s Liberation Army, and is due to take over as head of the ruling Communist Party later this year and as president in the spring.