- The Washington Times - Monday, December 2, 2013

As Vice President Joseph R. Biden arrived in Japan on Monday for a week of diplomacy in Asia, the U.S. military dispatched the first of six top-tech submarine-hunting jets to its Okinawa post near the disputed East China Sea, a move sure to ratchet up tensions among China and the U.S.

The Navy plans to send in a total of six P-8 Poseidon patrol craft, aimed at bolstering the United States’ ability to root out submarines in the area. The deployment was planned months ago, but nonetheless comes as China declared an expanded air defense zone above islands that it’s fighting Japan to control.

Mr. Biden landed in Tokyo on Monday to start a weeklong trip in which he will hold talks with the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea. Aides said the vice president will confront Chinese President Xi Jinping later in the week in Beijing about China‘s intentions for the chain of islands also claimed by Japan.

The U.S. said it has advised commercial airlines to follow China‘s guidance for flight paths in the region for safety reasons. But the Obama administration said the U.S. doesn’t accept the legitimacy of China‘s new air defense zone, and Mr. Biden will make that clear.

“This appears to be a provocative attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea and thus raises regional tensions and increases the risk of miscalculation, confrontation and accidents,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “The fact that China‘s announcement has caused confusion and increased the risk of accidents only further underscores the validity of our concerns and the need for China to rescind the procedures.”

Mr. Carney said China‘s air zone “overlaps” with zones established by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

“We do not accept the legitimacy of China‘s requirements for operating in the newly declared [zone], and will underscore how important it is to avoid actions that raise tensions and to prevent miscalculations that could undermine peace, security and prosperity in the region,” Mr. Carney said. “This is an opportunity for Vice President Biden to raise our concerns directly with policymakers in Beijing and to seek clarity regarding the Chinese intentions in making this move at this time.”

The vice president is meeting Tuesday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is seeking assurances that the U.S. will stand firm against China‘s claims.

In an editorial published Monday, the state-run newspaper China Daily said the air defense zone could be “a hard-to-navigate topic” for Mr. Biden and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is also visiting Beijing this week. The paper said the Cairo Declaration, a World War II-era communique that stated Japan should give up all islands it had seized, “remains the ultimate key to sorting out the convoluted territorial dispute between China and Japan.”

“The China-hating politicians in Washington display collective amnesia when and where it gets in the way of demonizing China,” the editorial stated, adding that “challenging our legitimate claim to the Diaoyu Islands is an outright betrayal of the [Cairo] Declaration.”

China refers to the territory as the Diaoyu Islands; Japan calls them the Senkaku Islands.

Tokyo and Beijing’s dispute has led to tense encounters between the two nations’ ships and planes in the past year. Last month, China announced an expanded air defense zone that encompasses the uninhabited islands, creating heightened concern among the U.S. and its allies for the safety of commercial passenger flights, military flights and other commerce in the region.

The situation has raised fears of a midair incident and has fueled concern about how far China is willing to pursue its interests in the region and challenge U.S. influence.

Mr. Biden‘s efforts at diplomacy come at a low point in Asia for the Obama administration. Although President Obama has long made a point of his intention to pivot U.S. policy toward the Asia-Pacific, the president had to cancel his attendance at two Asian summits in October due to the government shutdown in Washington.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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