One day after he spoke with leaders in embattled neighbor Japan, Vice President Joe Biden met with officials in China on Wednesday amid an escalating argument between Asian nations that has attracted the attention of the United States.
A meeting between Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping scheduled for only 45 minutes this week turned into a two hour ordeal and ended with the US senator-turned-second-in-command offering brief remarks but answering no questions before a press scrum in Beijing.
Speaking with reporters amid a stalemate that started late last month between China and Japan over disputed airspace, Biden expressed a need for trust to develop between all those involved and directly addressed the apprehension caused by China's recent airspace announcement.
The relationship between the US and China, Biden said, “ultimately has to be based on trust, and a positive notion about the motive of one another.”
"China's recent and sudden announcement of the establishment
of a new air defense identification zone has, to state the
obvious, caused significant apprehension in the region,"
Biden told a gathering of US executives in the Chinese capital.
Late November, Chinese officials declared a portion of the East China Sea long claimed by Japan to fall within their own air defense border, causing a row to erupt between both countries and then the US, which has so far also managed to involve the likes of South Korea and Taiwan. The Pentagon soon after deployed a fleet of B-52 bombers through the region unannounced in defiance of China’s orders, then moved a next-generation surveillance aircraft towards Japan to await orders, provoking criticism from the Chinese by way of some scathing newspaper editorials, including one that ran Wednesday in tandem with Biden’s Beijing visit.
Biden was in Japan hours earlier on Tuesday, and said during a meeting alongside Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the US is deeply concerned by the recent events that have “raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation,” adding that neither Japan nor their American allies will tolerate “the attempt by China to change the status quo by force.”
When Biden arrived in Beijing shortly after, an editorial in the official English-language China Daily warned that the vice president "should not expect any substantial headway if he comes simply to repeat his government's previous erroneous and one-sided remarks.”
"If the US is truly committed to lowering tensions in the region, it must first stop acquiescing to Tokyo's dangerous brinkmanship,” the op-ed continued. “It must stop emboldening belligerent Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to constantly push the envelope of Japan's encroachments and provocations."
When Biden finally emerged from his marathon meeting with President Xi on Wednesday, he appeared “solemn” and “weary-sounding,” according to the New York Times’ Mark Lander, and the Associated Press equated the meeting between men as an “awkward kickoff” for the vice president’s tour of China.
Instead of directly acknowledging the disagreement between China and Japan during the press conference that followed his meeting, Biden said both nations need to make use of "crisis management mechanisms and effective channels of communication” and spoke of a "new model of major country cooperation” that rests on trust.
“Trust is the basis on which real change, constructive change, is made,” Biden said.
Xi declined to bring up the airspace rift as well, instead acknowledging only "undergoing profound and complex changes” in Asia.
“Regional issues keep cropping up and there are more pronounced global challenges such as climate change and energy security. The world is not tranquil," he added.
Next on Biden's trek through the region will be Seoul, South Korea, where he is expected to make appearances on Thursday following a meeting with China’s Premier Li Keqiang that will cap off his visit there.