US defence secretary Leon Panetta has met with Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping, who just days ago reappeared after a puzzling two-week disappearance.
The meeting was part of Mr Panetta's week-long trip through Asia Pacific, in a campaign to pursue the US military's increased focus on the region.
Mr Xi stood to greet the American delegation in a lavish room in the Great Hall of the People and energetically shook Mr Panetta's hand. Once seated, he said Mr Panetta's visit "will be very helpful in further advancing the state-to-state and military-to-military relations between our two countries".
Mr Panetta told Mr Xi that the two Pacific powers have common concerns and that he is confident they will be able to improve their dialogue.
The US and China have long had a tumultuous relationship, fuelled by America's distrust of Beijing's military build-up and China's concerns about the expanded US military presence.
In repeated statements this week, Mr Panetta has stressed that the new focus on Asia is not aimed at China. But the US has had persistent concerns about China's growing economic and trade dominance in the region.
Mr Panetta's visit, however, comes as violent protests raged around the country, over a territorial dispute between China and Japan.
Chinese officials say they want the US to remain neutral in the matter. But protesters slammed America, charging that the increased US activity in the region has emboldened Japan and other countries to challenge China in such disputes.
Coming against that backdrop, Mr Panetta's meeting with Mr Xi carried even greater significance, giving him a larger stage on which to lay out the United States' intentions in the region.
But the session was also notable because the Chinese leader recently reappeared after having not been seen since September 1. He had cancelled meetings with dignitaries including US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.