BEIJING — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden says that as China and the United States work to create a new type of relationship, they need to expand their cooperation and deliver results. Biden's visit to Beijing this week comes as China faces criticism over a recent decision to create an air defense identification zone that includes territory also claimed by Japan.
In Tokyo, Vice President Biden talked about the strength of Washington's close alliance with Japan and voiced the United States' deep concern about China's recently declared air defense identification zone.
The issue was also a topic of discussion in Beijing. But Biden stressed efforts by Beijing and Washington to create a new relationship - one between major powers.
"This is a hugely consequential relationship that is going to affect the course of the 21st century and, like all complex relationships, Mr. Vice President, it calls for sustained, high-level engagement," he said.
Biden made those remarks prior to a closed door meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li Yuanchao. Li echoed that sentiment, but also stressed the need to respect each other's core interests and major concerns.
Biden has promised to raise the issue of the East China Sea air defense identification zone "in great specificity" during his visits with Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping.
Biden has also suggested both sides establish "confidence building measures, including emergency communications channels," to help reduce tensions. China says that it is willing to discuss the issue with Japan, but also says certain countries are overreacting to its decision and distorting the move.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that China established the zone to safeguard its national security and did so in line with national laws. He says the United States and Japan should regard this in an objective way and that it is not China that has changed the status quo, but Japan.
Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at the City University of Hong Kong, says that Biden is trying to maintain a difficult balance by providing assurances to its long term ally Japan, while also stressing the importance of U.S.-China relations. He says the United States would like to act as a mediator between the two countries.
“A quiet mediating role is definitely welcomed and I do believe that the vice [resident will act along these lines at this stage," he said. "A formal mediating role may be a little bit difficult because traditionally Chinese authorities do not want to involve a third country, especially a major power in a bilateral dispute.”
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.
Joseph Cheng says that while all parties understand the dangers of war and the risks that escalating tensions pose, domestic pressures make it difficult for China and Japan to compromise.
“Obviously, on the part of China and Japan, both governments are very much under the pressure of domestic nationalism and their leaders do not want to be seen as being weak in dealing with each other,” he said.
In recent days, China has made efforts to ease tensions over the zone. On the eve of Biden's arrival, the Defense Ministry released a rare statement stressing that the area is not a no-fly zone nor is it a sign that China is expanding its territorial airspace. The statement did say that while surveillance in the area remains necessary, the use of fighter jets would not be necessary in most cases.
However, some feel the move was a mistake for Beijing.
“If China really wants to build up a new model of great power relations, this is the last thing to do to build up a great power relationship," said Xie Tao, a political scientist at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. "I think it is not controversial at all for China to establish this ADIZ. However, I think that international relations scholars and commentators both in China and outside of China agree that the timing and scope of the ADIZ are too controversial.”
After visiting China on Wednesday, Biden will head to South Korea 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 with the North before returning to Washington.
William Gallo in Washington contributed to this report.