Biden on delicate mission to defuse tensions in East Asia

Biden on delicate mission to defuse tensions in East Asia
# 02 December 2013 23:42 (UTC +04:00)

Baku- APA. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will try to strike a delicate balance of calming military tensions with China while supporting ally Japan against Beijing on a trip to Asia this week that is being overshadowed by a territorial dispute in the East China Sea, APA reports quoting Reuters.

Aiming to counter criticism that the United States is neglecting Asia because it is distracted by domestic politics and the Middle East, the White House has long been planning a visit by Biden to Japan, China and South Korea.

Those countries are at the heart of a quarrel over two tiny islands claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing that descended into military brinkmanship after China in late November declared an "air defense identification zone" that includes the islands.

In Tokyo on Tuesday, Biden will likely assure Japan that a military alliance with the United States dating back to the 1950s remains valid as the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wrangles with China over the islands.

Yet he will also try to calm tensions between the United States and China over the same territorial dispute when he goes to Beijing later in the week.

"It's especially important ... that we continue to amplify our messages that we are and always will be there for our allies, and that there is a way for two major powers in the U.S. and China to build a different kind of relationship for the 21st century," a senior Obama administration official said.

Although Washington takes no position on the sovereignty of the uninhabited islands, it recognizes Tokyo's administrative control and says the U.S.-Japan security pact applies to them, in a stance that counters China's attempts to challenge U.S. military dominance in the region.

"I think (Biden) will probably publicly restate the commitment the U.S. has under the mutual defense treaty and that the islands are covered under article five of the treaty and that we recognize Japan's administrative control and oppose any efforts to undermine that," said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. "It's essential that he says that publicly."

U.S., Japanese and South Korean military aircraft all breached the aerial defense zone last week without informing Beijing and China later scrambled fighters into the area.

The military posturing has raised fears of a clash between the United States and its allies and China as it becomes more assertive in the East China Sea and South China Sea under President Xi Jinping.

Two U.S. B-52 bombers flew through the defense zone last week without an immediate response from China, leading some military analysts to conclude that Beijing has overreached.

But, acting on U.S. government advice, three U.S. airlines are notifying Chinese authorities of flight plans when traveling through the zone, even though Washington says this does not mean U.S. acceptance of the zone.

Biden is expected to suggest ways out of the crisis when he meets Xi in Beijing on Wednesday.

"What the Americans can hope to do is to try to tell the Chinese that this ratcheting up is not very clever and is counterproductive and that there is a way out, which is for the Chinese simply to de-emphasize (the defense zone) and not to enforce it," said Jonathan Eyal, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

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