- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Vice President Joseph R. Biden delivered stern warnings to Chinese leaders Wednesday over their territorial dispute with Japan, but his message appeared to fall flat as China ratcheted up its war of words with Tokyo.

In more than five hours of talks in Beijing, Mr. Biden told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the U.S. refuses to recognize China’s new air defense zone in the East China Sea over a chain of uninhabited islands administered by Japan. Aides to the vice president said the Chinese leader was “equally clear” about China’s claim over the territory.

Mr. Biden “indicated that we don’t recognize the zone, that we have deep concerns,” a Biden aide said. “We are looking to China to take steps to reduce tensions.”

The leaders gave no indication that they had reached any kind of agreement on the issue, which has raised tensions over airspace rights since China announced the defense zone Nov. 23.

Even as Mr. Biden was trying his hand at diplomacy, China accused Japan of threatening regional stability.

“Our neighbor, Japan, made irresponsible remarks on this issue, with an attempt to play it up, create frictions and damage regional stability,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. He accused Japan of “unilaterally and illegally” purchasing the islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

A confrontation between the Asian countries could embroil the U.S., which has a security treaty with Japan. The U.S. has flown two B-52 bombers through the area in a show of support for Japan, which also refuses to recognize China’s air defense zone.

Officials in South Korea also are worried about China’s actions.

Although the U.S. and Japan have expressed concern about China’s attempts to change the status quo in Asia, they have responded differently to how civilian airliners should operate in the Chinese air defense zone. The U.S. has asked its civilian airliners to inform China about flight plans; Japan has said its civilian aircraft should ignore the Chinese.

Since China’s announcement, 55 airlines from 19 countries have reported their flight plans to China, Mr. Hong said.

“All international flights, if [they] operate normally in accordance with rules in the [defense zone], will not be affected at all,” he said.

Despite the tensions, aides said Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi had candid and lengthy talks about the issue.

“Ultimately, President Xi took onboard what the vice president said,” the Biden aide told reporters on the condition of anonymity. “It’s up to China, and we’ll see how things will unfold in the coming days and weeks.”

The two leaders also discussed the recent nuclear pact with Iran and its potential impact on efforts to denuclearize North Korea. China and the U.S. were among the world powers that reached an agreement with Iran two weeks ago to require tighter inspections of its nuclear enrichment program in return for an easing of economic sanctions.

The primary meeting in Beijing between Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi ran more than twice as long as scheduled. Mr. Biden expressed concern beforehand that China’s action could lead to “miscalculations” or accidents involving commercial airliners or military planes.

He arrived in Beijing on Wednesday morning from Japan. Before going into the private meeting with Mr. Xi, the vice president said the U.S. relationship with China “ultimately has to be based on trust, and a positive notion about the motive of one another.”

“The way I was raised was to believe that change presents opportunity,” Mr. Biden said. “Opportunity on regional security, on a global level. Complex relationships require sustained high-level engagement, and that’s why I’m here.”

Mr. Xi said China’s relationship with the U.S. “has generally maintained a momentum of positive development.”

“We stand ready to work together with the U.S. side to build a new model of major-country relations, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns … [and] to appropriately handle sensitive issues and differences between us so that together we can make sure our bilateral relationship will continue to move forward in a sustained, healthy and stable way,” Mr. Xi said.

Mr. Biden also stopped at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where he met Chinese citizens seeking tourist and work visas in the U.S. and boasted about the freedoms they would soon encounter.

The vice president took a swipe at China’s authoritarian government by saying he hoped the Chinese, once they arrived in the U.S., would “learn that innovation can only occur where you can breathe free, challenge the government, challenge religious leaders.”

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