BEIJING — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met Wednesday with Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping, who just days ago reappeared after a puzzling two-week disappearance.

The meeting was part of Panetta's weeklong trip through the Asia Pacific, in a campaign to pursue the U.S. military's increased focus on the region.

Xi stood to greet the American delegation in a lavish room in the Great Hall of the People and energetically shook Panetta's hand. Once seated, he said Panetta's visit "will be very helpful in further advancing the state-to-state and military-to-military relations between our two countries."

Panetta told Xi that the two Pacific powers have common concerns and that he is confident they will be able to improve their dialogue.

The U.S. and China have long had a tumultuous relationship, fueled by America's distrust of Beijing's military buildup and China's concerns about the expanded U.S. military presence.

In repeated statements this week, Panetta has stressed that the new focus on Asia is not aimed at China. But the U.S. has had persistent concerns about China's growing economic and trade dominance in the region.

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 U.S. to remain neutral in the matter. But protesters slammed America, charging that the increased U.S. activity in the region has emboldened Japan and other countries to challenge China in such disputes.

Coming against that backdrop, Panetta's meeting with 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 Sept. 1.

He had canceled meetings with dignitaries including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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  • Anti-Japan protesters burn a Japanese flag during their protest in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. Protesters in China began another day of demonstrations against Japan Sunday, after protests over disputed islands spread across numerous cities and at times turned violent. (AP Photo)

  • A water bottle thrown by a demonstrator hits at the main entrance gate of Japanese Embassy during a protest in Beijing Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

  • Chinese protesters carry Chinese national flags and a banner which reads "Kill the Japan Dog, Return my Diaoyu Island" as they march past the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, China, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

  • A customer walks out of a convenience store with a Chinese flag and a notice that read: "Family Mart belongs to a Taiwan invested company" ahead of major protests expected on Tuesday, near the Japanese Consulate General Monday Sept. 17, 2012 in Shanghai, China. China moved to tamp down rising anti-Japan sentiment after a weekend of sometimes violent demonstrations, threatening Monday to arrest lawbreakers and scrubbing websites of protest-related images and posts. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

  • A worker covers a signboard of a Japanese restaurant chain with blue sheets ahead of major protests expected on Tuesday, near the Japanese Consulate General Monday Sept. 17, 2012 in Shanghai, China. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

  • A Chinese demonstrator throws a teargas canister back to riot policemen during a protest against Japan in Shenzhen, China Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Apple Daily)

  • In this photo taken Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012, Chinese paramilitary police face off with anti-Japan protesters holding up a banner which reads "Boycott Japanese goods" outside the city headquarters of the Communist Party of China in Shenzhen in south China's Guangdong province. (AP Photo)

  • A Chinese demonstrator carrying his son on his shoulder chants anti-Japan slogan during a protest in Beijing, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

  • Chinese protesters with the words "Boycott Japanese goods" on their shirts march towards the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, China, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

  • A group of paramilitary policemen are surrounded by anti-Japan protesters outside Shenzhen city's Communist Party headquarters, in southern China's Guangdong province, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (AP Photo)

  • An anti-Japan protesters and a police officer scuffle in Shanghai, China, Sunday Sept. 16, 2012. (AP Photo)