Biden arrives in Asia amid air zone tensions
BEIJING — How to reassure Japan and South Korea that the United States will stand behind them, without inflaming the Chinese?
That was the mission standing before Vice President Joe Biden as he arrived in Asia amidst a potential crisis over China’s designation of a large swath of the East China Sea as an air defense identification zone.
The United States has rejected China’s demand that it submit advance flight plans and maintain radio contact before flying over the restricted waters. That defiance was underscored by the flights last week of two American B-52 bombers through the zone. Japanese and South Korean planes have since flown through as well without advance notice.
“This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation,” said Biden on Tuesday in Tokyo, the first stop on his weeklong Asia tour, which was intended to advance economic ties in the region. At a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he called for “crisis management mechanisms and effective channels of communication between China and Japan to reduce the risk of escalation.”
The Japanese and United States have appeared to be working at cross purposes in recent days as a result of the U.S. decision that passenger airlines should comply with the Chinese request for advance notification. On orders of the Japanese government, major Japanese commercial air carriers have refused.
Although Biden personally is said to have a good relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Chinese leadership appears furious at the U.S. reaction to the air defense zone.
“The timing couldn’t be worse,” said retired Air Force Col. Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies), a Honolulu-based think tank. “The frustrating thing, I’m sure, for Biden and company is that they spent a lot of time preparing and the announcement of the air defense identification zone has completely recast the trip.”