Panetta gets rare look at Chinese naval vessels

By Lolita C. Baldor

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 20 2012 12:15 a.m. MDT

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, meets with the Commander of the North Sea Fleet Vice Adm. Tian Zhong, right, at Qingdao, China before touring Chinese naval vessels, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. Panetta is getting a rare glimpse inside the Chinese naval base and will be touring two of its ships.

Larry Downing, Pool, Associated Press

QINGDAO, China — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta got a rare glimpse Thursday inside a Chinese naval base and toured two of its ships.

But most details of his visit — like much of the information about China's military — were off limits to the media traveling with him.

Instead, the reporters got beer. Chinese officials refused to let reporters stay with Panetta as he went aboard the ships, so the media were taken to the nearby Tsingtao Brewery for a tour.

Meanwhile, Panetta checked out the frigate Yantai, which recently returned from a counter-piracy deployment in the Gulf of Aden, and the Great Wall 197, a conventionally powered submarine.

The U.S. has repeatedly called for China to be more transparent about its military. Panetta's tour of the People's Liberation Army's North Sea Fleet capped a three-day visit in which the Pentagon chief met with China's military and civilian leaders, urging greater cooperation and communication between the two nations.

The next stop for Panetta is New Zealand, where he will meet with the Pacific nation's defense minister.

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