Updated: 12/03/2013 17:18 | By Agence France-Presse

Biden in Tokyo amid 'dangerous' China tensions

The United States is "deeply concerned" about China's new air zone, Vice President Joe Biden said before meetings Tuesday with Japanese leaders eager to shore up US support in their bitter tussle with Beijing.


Biden in Tokyo amid 'dangerous' China tensions

US Vice President Joe Biden (R) shares a light moment with Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso (L) during their meeting at the US ambassador's residence in Tokyo on December 3, 2013

Tokyo said it was confident of getting US backing for opposition to what it called an "extremely dangerous" move by Beijing, which has claimed the right to issue orders to aircraft over a swathe of the East China Sea, including disputed islands.

"We remain deeply concerned by the announcement of a new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ)," Biden told the Asahi Shimbun before his tour of Northeast Asia, which will also take in China and South Korea.

"I will reaffirm the strength of our alliance commitments and emphasise the importance of avoiding actions that could undermine peace, security and prosperity in the region," Biden told the paper.

Tensions in the region are at their highest in years, with China and Japan squaring off over a chain of uninhabited islands in a feud that has some observers warning of the danger of an armed confrontation.

Nerves are particularly frayed after Beijing's proclamation of the ADIZ, in which it says all aircraft must obey its instructions or risk unspecified "defensive emergency measures".

"China's declaration of an air defence identification zone is an attempt to unilaterally change the status quo, which can invite unexpected situations and is an extremely dangerous act," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters before Biden's one-on-one with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"Japan and the United States share the position that China's ADIZ is unacceptable.... I think (Biden) will head to China to discuss various issues including this, with his understanding of Japan's position," Suga said.

Beijing's announcement of the ADIZ provoked anger in Tokyo, Seoul and Washington, which all sent military or paramilitary planes into the zone in defiance of Chinese orders.

The shared reaction in Japan and South Korea marked a rare moment of harmony in a relationship marked by friction over shared history that hobbles US attempts to bring its two chief regional allies together.

"We believe that Northeast Asia will be strongest when its two leading democracies work together to meet common threats, and when the three of us -- the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea -- work together to advance common interests and values," Biden told the Asahi.

Senior US administration officials said Biden, who is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing later this week, plans to convey Washington's "concerns" to China and seek clarity about its intentions over the air zone.

"It's a provocative action, an uncoordinated action at a time tensions already are running high, and that this is not the kind of thing that contributes to the greater peace and security in northeast Asia," an official travelling with Biden told reporters.

Some analysts believe the declaration of the zone was a far-sighted move by Beijing in its campaign to undermine Japan's claims to control disputed islands, and ultimately, to assert its own regional dominance and push the US out of the western Pacific.

Others, however, say it looked more like an over-reach by an administration that did not fully anticipate the vehemence of the reaction.

In their meeting, Abe will be looking for Biden to bolster his position that China is being unreasonable and aggressive, said Takehiko Yamamoto, professor of international politics at Waseda University in Tokyo.

"But at the same time, Washington does not want to take the risk of damaging its bilateral ties with China," he said.

"Biden will deliver the message to the Chinese side but may also seek to play a role in mediating," he added.

After morning coffee with Irish Premier Enda Kenny, who is staying at the same hotel on a five-day visit to Japan, Biden went to the US embassy where he met ambassador Caroline Kennedy and Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.

He is expected to meet Crown Prince Naruhito later in the day before a formal meeting and dinner with Abe.

Biden will move to Beijing on Wednesday to hold talks with Xi before flying to Seoul, where he is to meet President Park Geun-Hye.

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