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June 24, 2017

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Sergeant' Hagel meets PLA counterparts

BEIJING -- Over kung pao chicken and dumplings, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel recalled his days as an infantryman in Vietnam Wednesday with young Chinese soldiers at a People's Liberation Army (PLA) training academy.

"Many, many years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was a sergeant in the army," joked the visiting U.S. defense secretary before sitting down to lunch at a canteen with soldiers training to become non-commissioned officers (NCOs) in the PLA.

The Changping school laid out the red carpet for Hagel, who did his NCO training in 1968 after braving combat in the jungles of the Mekong Delta — and still carries shrapnel in his chest as a result.

The atmosphere was friendly and conversation light, in stark contrast to the rough reception Hagel received Tuesday from top Chinese officials and a roomful of PLA colonels who peppered him with tough questions.

Then, a whole range of disagreements were on display, with critical editorials in Chinese media and a testy exchange with General Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Committee, officials said.

The general told Hagel that China was "dissatisfied" with his remarks about Beijing's territorial disputes with Japan and other countries, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Hagel strongly disagreed and "pushed back," U.S. officials said.

But at the NCO training academy in a northwestern suburb of Beijing, Hagel faced no grilling over U.S. foreign policy, and instead watched soldiers in combat fatigues drive bulldozers and backhoes in a precision display.

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