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The meeting between visiting US Secretary of Defence Dr Robert Gates and President Hu Jintao was meant to send a clear message that Beijing and Washington wanted to mend their fragile military ties ahead of Hu's state visit to Washington next week.
But the message became lost in intense speculation over whether Hu had been informed of the first test flight of China's J-20 stealth fighter just hours before the meeting and whether the mainland's civilian leadership is in firm control of the country's military.
While details of what happened in the opulent room of the Great Hall of the People on Tuesday remained unclear, US defence officials told reporters their distinct impressions that they found that China's top civilian leaders were apparently not aware of the test.
"When secretary Gates raised the question of the J-20 in the meeting with President Hu, it was clear that none of the civilians in the room had been informed," a US defence official told journalists after Hu's meeting with Gates.