News / Asia

Biden Heads on Delicate Mission to Defuse E. Asia Tensions

FILE - Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Chicago, Nov. 25, 2013.
FILE - Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Chicago, Nov. 25, 2013.
Reuters
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.
 
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.
 
Personal Style
 
Biden often relies on his affability and talent for personal relations when he meets foreign leaders and he feels he has a bond with Xi who he has known since before the Chinese president took office.
 
“He has a way of saying to somebody, 'I understand the predicament you're in, and far be it from me to tell you what to do, but I'm going to offer some advice,”' said Julie Smith, who was Biden's deputy national security adviser until June.
 
“Because he's got this personal relationship with Xi, they take him very seriously,” Smith said. “They view him as an honest broker.”
 
All the same, Biden's well-known frankness can go too far and he upset Chinese students at a speech at the University of Pennsylvania in May when he told them China's communist system does not allow them to “think different.”
 
An immediate resolution to the air defense zone dispute is unlikely, said Jia Qingguo, professor and associate dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University.
 
“China will probably say to Biden that this is a standard practice for more than 20 countries. Why the fuss? It is helpful for the two sides to gage each other's intentions and clarify issues and develop some kind of understanding as to what to expect. But this issue will probably linger on," Jia said. "It is good for Biden to come at this time so that this issue gets discussed at a high level. Other issues need attention too.”
 
Despite the military standoff, U.S. officials see increased cooperation on a range of issues from climate change to North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions a year after Xi took over the helm of the Communist Party.
 
It is not clear whether Biden will ask for Chinese help in pressuring North Korea to release U.S. war veteran Merrill Newman, 85, who it arrested last month.
 
The Biden visit goes some way to addressing concerns among U.S. allies in Asia that Washington is neglecting the region because of budget fights at home, Iran nuclear talks and the Syrian civil war.
 
Obama canceled a trip to Southeast Asia in October because of the partial U.S. government shutdown, and a much vaunted “pivot to Asia,” a strategic rebalancing of U.S. priorities toward the Pacific, has yet to show many results.
 
Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, announced in November that Obama would travel to Asia in April to make up for the cancelled visit.
 
“The fact that [Biden's] visit encompasses both America's allies and America's chief rival in the region is intended to show that the United States is the only power able to maintain the balance in the region, which is absolutely what the pivot was all about,” said Eyal, of the Royal United Services Institute.
 
He said: “a prevalent mood in Asia that the administration hasn't got the stomach for military action and is disinterested in Asia” may have propelled China to announcing its defense zone.

You May Like

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

Iraqi Kurdish Leader: Protect Syrian City

Islamic State fighters are besieging Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, after seizing at least 21 surrounding villages in a major assault against city on Syria's northern border with Turkey More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid