ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's trip to China has been extended by a day and will include meetings with Vice President Xi Jinping, U.S. defense officials said on Monday.
The visit with Xi, China's leader-in-waiting who canceled a recent scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was confirmed only in the last couple of days after he re-emerged from having been out of the public spotlight amid health rumors.
Panetta is making the three-day trip to China at the invitation of Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, who visited the Pentagon earlier this year as well as military installations in other parts of the country.
The visit is part of U.S. and Chinese efforts to promote closer military relations and greater transparency between the two sides.
As part of that effort, Panetta will become the first U.S. defense secretary to visit the home of the Chinese navy's North Sea fleet at Qingdao where he will tour warships and meet with cadets and the commander of the fleet, Vice Admiral Tian Zhong.
Xi is due to take over as president in March next year. He has a military role as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and met with Panetta at the Pentagon earlier this year.
Panetta will meet Xi on Wednesday.
Panetta said in Tokyo on Monday the United States would stand by its security treaty obligations to Japan but not take sides in a protracted row with China over disputed islands and urged calm and restraint on both sides.
"It is in everybody's interest ... for Japan and China to maintain good relations and to find a way to avoid further escalation," he told reporters.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)