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

    Ethiopia's Anti-terrorism Law: Security or Silencing Dissent?

    Yonatan Tesfaye was detained in December 2015 on charges under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation; eleven statements from his Facebook page were used as evidence

    Egypt Orders Trial for Journalists Charged With Harboring Reporters

    Order targets journalists' union chief Yehia Qalash, Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim for allegedly spreading false news, harboring fugitive colleagues

    Nigerian Oil Production Falls as Militant Attacks Take Toll

    Country no longer Africa's petroleum king due to renewed militancy in its oil-producing region

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahdai
    X
    Lisa Schlein
    May 31, 2016 1:56 PM
    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahda

    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Mobile App Allows Dutch Muslims to Rate their Imams

    If a young Dutch-Moroccan app developer has his way, Muslims in the Netherlands will soon be able to rate their imams online. Mohamed Mouman says imams rarely get feedback from their followers. He believes his app can give prayer leaders a better picture of what's happening in their communities — and can also keep young people from being radicalized. Serginho Roosblad reports from Amsterdam.
    Video

    Video Moscow Condemns NATO Plans to Beef Up Defense in Eastern Europe, Baltics

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday an upcoming "landmark summit" will enhance the alliance's defensive and deterrent presence in eastern Europe and the Baltics. He is visiting Poland ahead of the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Zlatica Hoke reports
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video F-35 Fighter Jet Draws Criticisms as Costs Mount

    America’s latest fighter plane, the F-35, has been mired in controversy. Critics cite cost, faulty design, and the attempt to use it to fill multiple roles. Even the pilot’s helmet is controversial. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Concerns Over Civilian Suffering as Iraqi Forces Surround Fallujah

    Thousands of residents are trapped inside the IS-held city ahead of a full scale Iraqi offensive aimed at retaking it.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora