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Published: Tuesday December 3, 2013 MYT 1:12:00 PM
Updated: Tuesday December 3, 2013 MYT 1:18:45 PM

Biden in Tokyo amid 'dangerous' China tensions

US Vice President Joe Biden (right) shares a light moment with Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso (left) during their meeting at the US ambassador's residence in Tokyo on December 3, 2013. -AFP

US Vice President Joe Biden (right) shares a light moment with Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso (left) during their meeting at the US ambassador's residence in Tokyo on December 3, 2013. -AFP

TOKYO: Vice President Joe Biden held talks in Tokyo Tuesday, saying the United States is "deeply concerned" about a new Chinese air zone that has provoked fury in Japan.

The Japanese government said it was confident it would get US backing for its opposition to what it called an "extremely dangerous" move by Beijing, which asserted rights to control aircraft over a swathe of the East China Sea, including disputed islands.

"We remain deeply concerned by the announcement of a new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ)," Biden told the Asahi Shimbun ahead of his tour of northeast Asia, which will also take in China and South Korea.

"I believe this latest incident underscores the need for agreement between China and Japan to establish crisis management and confidence-building measures to lower tensions.

"I will reaffirm the strength of our alliance commitments and emphasise the importance of avoiding actions that could undermine peace, security and prosperity in the region," Biden told the paper.

Tensions in the region are their highest in years with China and Japan squaring off over a chain of uninhabited islands in a feud that has some observers warning of the danger of an armed confrontation.

Nerves are particularly frayed after Beijing's proclamation of the ADIZ, in which it says all aircraft must obey its orders or risk unspecified "defensive emergency measures".

"China's declaration of an air defence identification zone is an attempt to unilaterally change the status quo, which can invite unexpected situations and is an extremely dangerous act," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters ahead of Biden's one-on-one with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"Japan and the United States share the position that China's ADIZ is unacceptable.... I think (Biden) will head to China to discuss various issues including this, with his understanding of Japan's position," Suga said.

Beijing's announcement of the ADIZ provoked anger in Tokyo, Seoul and Washington, who all sent military or paramilitary planes into the zone in defiance of Chinese orders.

In Washington, senior administration officials said Biden, who is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing later this week, plans to convey Washington's "concerns" to China and seek clarity regarding its intentions.

Analysts are divided over whether it was a clever long-term move by Beijing in its bid to undermine Japan's claims to control the disputed islands, or an over-reach by an administration that does not fully appreciate its impact.

Abe will be looking for Biden to bolster his position that China is being unreasonable and aggressive, said Takehiko Yamamoto, professor of international politics at Waseda University in Tokyo.

"But at the same time, Washington does not want to take the risk of damaging its bilateral ties with China," he said.

"Biden will deliver the message to the Chinese side but may also seek to play a role in mediating," he added.

Analysts point out that Tokyo and Washington appear at odds over instructions to their airlines flying through the zone, with Japan telling its carriers they should not comply and the US advising American companies that they should.

After a morning coffee with Irish premier Enda Kenny, who is staying at the same hotel on a five-day visit to Japan, Biden went to the US embassy where he met with new ambassador Caroline Kennedy and Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.

He is expected to meet Crown Prince Naruhito later in the day before a formal meeting and dinner with Abe.

Biden will move to Beijing on Wednesday to hold talks with Xi before flying to Seoul, where he is to meet South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.

President Barack Obama pledged in his first term to "pivot" US foreign policy toward Asia.

But he called off a trip to the region in October to negotiate with Republicans who shut down the US government in a failed bid to stop his signature healthcare reform.

Biden's visit is intended to help re-affirm US commitment to the region, ahead of an intended trip to Asia by Obama in April. -AFP



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