U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Beijing for talks that are expected to focus on China's controversial air defense zone, which includes islands that are also claimed by Washington's ally, Japan. He promised to raise the issue during his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top leaders.
His one-day visit began at the U.S. Embassy, where he encouraged a group of Chinese visa applicants to "challenge the government."
"Innovation can only come when you can breathe free, challenge the government, challenge your teachers, challenge religious leaders," said Biden.
Following a later meeting with his counterpart, Li Yuanchao, Biden said the U.S.-China relationship was "hugely consequential" and "complex," and requires "sustained, high-level engagement."
Biden's Wednesday arrival in China comes a day after he met with Japanese leaders in Tokyo, where he said he was "deeply concerned" about the Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, in the East China Sea.
Speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Biden promised to raise the issue "in great specificity" during his visits with Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping.
He suggested both sides establish "confidence building measures, including emergency communications channels," to help reduce tensions.
Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at the City University of Hong Kong, told VOA that such measures could be welcomed by both sides.
"Some kind of hotline is definitely possible. I think all parties concerned welcome this. And further discussions on confidence building measures are to be welcomed. Ideally, there should be some sort of code of conduct along the lines of that concluded between China and ASEAN," said Cheng.
However, Cheng does not expect Biden to take on a formal mediating role, since China has been reluctant to involve outside powers in what it views as bilateral territorial disputes.
Further dialogue could also be complicated by Japan's refusal to formally recognize a dispute over the islands, something it views as a weakening of its position.
Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA that Biden finds himself in a tough position.
"It is quite difficult for Vice President Biden in this particular heightened, tense atmosphere, to try and urge the two sides to resume political dialogue and particularly to talk about confidence building measures between the two militaries," said Glaser.
China set up its Air Defense Identification Zone late last month. Beijing has requested that all airplanes submit flight plans ahead of flying through the zone.
The U.S. has repeatedly rejected the legitimacy of the Chinese zone. Last week, it flew two unarmed B-52 bombers on a "routine" training mission through the area, ignoring Chinese demands the aircraft identify themselves.
While Beijing said it monitored the B-52 flights, it did not interfere. Later, however, it did scramble fighter jets to the area, heightening concerns about a possible miscalculation in the air.
Ahead of Biden's arrival, China's Defense Ministry said its determination to defend the zone is "unwavering, and the military is fully capable of exercising effective control," over the area.
The state-controlled China Daily newspaper also warned in an editorial Wednesday that Biden "should not expect any substantial headway if he comes [to China] simply to repeat his government's previous erroneous and one-sided remarks."
After visiting China on Wednesday, Biden will head to South Korea on Thursday, which has also been angered by China's declared air defense zone.
He is expected to meet with President Park Geun-hye and visit the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas before returning to Washington.