BEIJING - The U.S Defence Secretary told Chinese troops yesterday that America's new military focus in the Asia-Pacific - including plans to base marines in Australia and build a second radar system in Japan - is not an attempt to contain or threaten China.
Delivering his message directly to the young Chinese officers and cadets coming up through the ranks, Leon Panetta tried to put to rest fears that the US move to add forces, ships and a missile defence system in the region was aimed at the communist giant.
Ever since the plan was unveiled by the Pentagon this year, the US military's shift to the Pacific has fuelled worries of increased tensions or conflict with China and its 2.3 million-member People's Liberation Army.
Panetta laid out a pointed argument that the growing American presence in the region included an effort to build a stronger relationship with Beijing.
"Our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is not an attempt to contain China," Panetta said in a speech at the Engineering Academy of PLA Armoured Forces.
"It is an attempt to engage China and expand its role in the Pacific. It is about creating a new model in the relationship of two Pacific powers."
Panetta acknowledged that improving relations and building trust would take time.
In recent weeks, territorial disputes between China and Japan over a string of uninhabited islands have inflamed the region and raised worries that the US may back the Japanese.
The US also has been very vocal in blaming China for cyber attacks that emanate from the country and steal critical data from US government agencies and American companies.
Earlier Wednesday, Panetta held a meeting with the Chinese leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, who just days ago reappeared after a puzzling two-week disappearance.