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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid