- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2013

Vice President Joseph R. Biden left China for South Korea on Thursday after getting no concessions from Chinese leaders on their claim that China now controls all air space over the East China Sea.

Top Chinese officials rebuffed Mr. Biden after his two-day visit in which he urged Beijing to back down from its newly declared air defense zone that puts China in conflict with U.S. allies Japan and South Korea.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Mr. Biden was told in private meetings that the zone adheres to international law and that the Obama administration should respect it.

“During the talk the Chinese side repeated its principled position, stressing that the Chinese move accorded with international law and practice and that the U.S. side ought to take an objective and fair attitude and respect it,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement.

Before leaving Beijing, Mr. Biden told a group of business leaders that he was “very direct” in his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the Obama administration’s refusal to recognize China’s new zone.

China’s recent and sudden announcement of the establishment of a new Air Defense Identification Zone has, to state the obvious, caused significant apprehension in the region,” Mr. Biden said, adding that the U.S. intends to “remain a Pacific power diplomatically, economically and militarily.”

But China’s state-run media Thursday again blamed Japan for the dispute over a region that includes uninhabited islands and potentially large deposits of oil and natural gas.

“The current tension in the East China Sea is stirred up by Japan to win pity,” said the Global Times newspaper, which is controlled by the Communist Party.

China is requiring all commercial and military flights in the region to notify Chinese authorities of their flight plans. The U.S. has expressed concern that China’s actions could lead to “miscalculations” or accidents.

Mr. Biden said increasing tensions over China’s action on Nov. 23 would likely harm its long-term economic interests.

“As China’s economy grows, its stake in regional peace and stability will continue to grow as well because it has so much more to lose,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s why China will bear increasing responsibility to contribute positively to peace and security. That means taking steps to reduce the risk of accidental conflict and miscalculation, and reaffirming — reaffirming that we want to have better predictability and refraining from taking steps that will increase tension.”

Mr. Biden also met privately Thursday with several U.S. journalists who are being threatened with expulsion from Beijing. The vice president reportedly brought up the issue during his meetings with China’s top leaders, including Mr. Xi.

Nine journalists from The New York Times and 14 from Bloomberg News have not had their visas renewed to stay in China beyond Dec. 31. The news organizations said they believe the journalists are being punished for stories critical of the Chinese government.

Mr. Biden criticized the government for trying to intimidate the foreign press.

“Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences,” Mr. Biden said. “We have many disagreements, and some profound disagreements, on some of those issues right now, in the treatment of U.S. journalists. But I believe China will be stronger and more stable and more innovative if it respects universal human rights.”

The vice president also worked in an impromptu shopping excursion and a stop for afternoon tea with his son and granddaughter in the capital city, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

U.S. officials often make such stops during trips abroad in the belief that it fosters cultural engagement.

Mr. Biden’s motorcade stopped in a historic district of Beijing where he shopped in a bookstore with son Hunter and 15-year-old granddaughter Finnegan, who are accompanying the vice president on his weeklong tour of Asia. Mr. Biden purchased an ice cream bar for a reporter (who made a point of reimbursing the vice president) while security guards swarmed the small shop.

From there, the Bidens visited the bookstore, where the vice president picked up a gleaming white porcelain figurine of bunny ears and a bunny face with a thin black painted handlebar mustache. It wasn’t clear if he actually purchased the figurine.

Finally the vice president took his family members to the Liu Xian Guan Teahouse, which promotes itself as a classic Confucian-style teahouse and can be viewed at www.eatea.com. The shop owner said she was “deeply honored” by their visit and gave the Bidens a detailed demonstration of how to prepare and serve tea formally.

Mr. Biden arrived for a new round of diplomacy in Seoul with South Korean President Park Geun Hye. South Korea officials, like their counterparts in Japan, are concerned about China’s establishment of the expanded air defense zone.

In South Korea, Mr. Biden is to give a speech at Yonsei University about America’s Asia policy and the U.S.-Korea relationship. He will also lay a wreath to honor fallen U.S. troops and visit the Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and North Korea.

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