President Xi meets with Hagel

Updated: 2014-04-10 03:40

By Zhang Yunbi and Zhao Shengnan (China Daily)

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President Xi meets with Hagel
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asks People's Liberation Army soldier Xing Daichun about his sausage and tells him he is young and should eat more as they have lunch together at a canteen in a training academy for noncommissioned officers in the northern suburbs of Beijing on Wednesday. Feng Yongbin / China Daily 

Chopsticks, kung pao chicken bring Pentagon chief closer to PLA soldiers

It was a recipe for successful military interaction, with light-hearted banter and easy conversation on the menu as US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel savored traditional Chinese cuisine for his lunch on Wednesday at a noncommissioned officer school in Beijing.

But the US defense chief, like any good military tactician, was quick to take note of his surroundings, and immediately focused on a fresh-faced man sitting beside him.

"Is that a hotdog?," he asked the surprised young NCO who was about to eat a sausage.

"You are still growing, I'm not," Hagel added approvingly to Xing Daichun, 24, a member of the Changping NCO School of Equipment Academy. It is natural for young people to eat wholeheartedly, especially sausages, Hagel said, perhaps indicating that the older generation has to display a firmer resolve in the face of tempting food.

The off-the-cuff remarks by Hagel, himself a decorated soldier, evoked laughter and got the lunch off to an appetizing start, and Xing couldn't help but smile as he self-consciously negotiated the sausage.

Hagel gladly targeted what he said was one of his favorites, kung pao chicken, a signature Chinese dish, dumplings and broccoli with garlic.

Enjoying the company of fellow soldiers, Hagel was in his element, totally at ease with military students and enjoying the camaraderie of the dining hall.

But some minor tactical decisions still had to be made, and Hagel was quick to launch for the chopsticks, instead of knife and fork, scooping up the dumplings with admirable coordination.

Hagel did manage to fire off some questions about daily life at the school.

"How long is your lunchtime?" Hagel asked Chen Pengxing, 24, who sat nearby.

"Twenty minutes," Chen replied in English.

Zou Peng, president of the academy, told Hagel that each student has one hour of intense physical training every afternoon.

Hagel wanted to know about training on Saturday and how much time off they had.

The school had training for half a day on Saturday, Zou replied, and some had the rest of the day and Sunday off.

As a dessert offering, Hagel praised his hosts and spoke of his own time as a soldier.

"I am flattered that you invited me. ... Many, many years ago when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I was a sergeant in the army," Hagel said amid much laughter.

"You are leaders of the next generation. We need the best people, the smartest people," he said.

Before the plates were cleared, Chen presented Hagel with a metal insignia of the school with the Chinese characters "Ba Yi", (Aug 1), the date the People's Liberation Army was founded.

Hagel told Chen that he will cherish the badge and display it in his Pentagon office.

"This visit is very important to me, and I appreciate what you are doing for your country. I know your country is proud of you. Thank you," Hagel said just before a thunderous round of applause echoed across the dining hall.

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