Biden, Chinese President Avoid Public Comment on East China Sea Tensions
(CNSNews.com) – Smiles and polite words were on display when Vice President Joe Biden emerged from a long meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing Wednesday, but during a brief media appearance neither mentioned tensions over a territorial dispute that has seen both countries send warplanes into contested airspace over the East China Sea.
Instead, Biden praised Xi’s approach to the U.S.-China relationship and spoke of the need for bilateral cooperation “to be based on trust and a positive notion about the motive of one another.”
Xi also skirted around the East China Sea issue with a call for the two countries to “respect each other’s core interests and major concerns” and “appropriately handle sensitive issues and differences between us.” Reporters were not given the opportunity to ask questions.
It was left to Beijing’s state-run media to pile on the criticism over America’s reaction to China’s recent declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over a large area that includes islands controlled by Japan but claimed by China.
“Washington has obviously taken Japan’s side,” China Daily said in an editorial headlined “Facts for Biden’s reference.”
“Turning a blind eye to Tokyo’s provocations, the root cause of the tensions, the United States is wrongly pointing an accusing finger at China for ‘unilaterally’ changing the ‘status quo’ in the East China Sea,” it said.
Biden would not have much success in defusing the crisis, the editorial continued, “if he comes simply to repeat his government’s previous erroneous and one-sided remarks.”
“If the U.S. is truly committed to lowering tensions in the region, it must first stop acquiescing to Tokyo’s dangerous brinkmanship.”
The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times said the Chinese people were concerned that the U.S. “pivot” to Asia had the aim of containing their country. If that were not the case, then the U.S. should avoid “creating conflicts in areas that concern China’s core interests.”
The U.S. should “tolerate China’s reasonable strategic demands” and “avoid taking a stand in China’s territorial disputes with its neighboring countries,” it advised.
Briefing reporters on condition of anonymity after the Biden-Xi talks, a senior administration official said the ADIZ issue had been discussed in depth.
Biden had indicated “that we are looking to China to take steps as we move forward to lower tensions, to avoid enforcement actions that could lead to crisis, and to establish channels of communication with Japan, but also with their other neighbors to avoid the risk of mistake, miscalculation, accident or escalation.”
“President Xi took on board what the vice president laid out, and now, from our perspective, it’s up to China,” the official said. “And we’ll see how things unfold in the coming days and weeks.”
China says its ADIZ is “a necessary measure for China to protect its state sovereignty and territorial and airspace security,” and is no different than others that exist around the world.
But unlike ADIZs elsewhere, China’s requires aircraft to identify themselves and give advance notice of flight plans across the zone, whether or not they are heading for China itself – which is why the move appears intended to enforce a sovereignty claim to the disputed islands.
During a Pentagon briefing Wednesday chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey underlined the point.
“We’re not talking about sovereign airspace. We’re talking about international airspace adjacent to sovereign airspace,” he said. “The international norm is that entering an ADIZ, you would only report if you intended to enter the sovereign airspace of the country that declared the ADIZ.
“So it wasn’t the declaration of the ADIZ that actually was destabilizing. It was their assertion that they would cause all aircraft entering the ADIZ to report, regardless of whether they were intending to enter into the sovereign airspace of China,” Dempsey said. “And that is destabilizing.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Wednesday that 55 airlines in 19 countries were now reporting their flight plans to China when flying through the ADIZ, adding that “people have come to realize it is a safe and cooperative area, rather than risky and confrontational.”
Japan has told its airlines not to comply, but the State Department last Friday took a different tack, saying that the U.S. government “generally expects that U.S. carriers operating internationally will operate consistent with” advisories issued by foreign countries regarding potential hazards along a flight route.
Although it added that that advice “does not indicate U.S. government acceptance of China’s requirements for operating in the newly declared ADIZ,” the upshot was that U.S. airlines should comply.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told a press briefing Tuesday that the advice was merely “a reissuance of longstanding guidance regarding commercial aircraft.”
“The U.S. government does not accept or recognize China’s newly declared ADIZ. Indeed, U.S. military aircraft have been instructed to continue to operate normally in the area in line with U.S. government policy,” he said.
‘Military aircraft will be mobilized … to dispose of the situation’
Meanwhile the Chinese national defense ministry issued a statement outlining the circumstances under which it will scramble fighters – as it did last Friday in response to U.S. reconnaissance planes flying in the ADIZ. (Three days earlier the U.S. had flown two B-52 long-range bombers through the zone, in what the Pentagon said was a pre-planned training flight that passed without incident.)
“The military is fully capable of exercising effective control over the East China Sea ADIZ,” said defense ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng. “Measures to be taken are based on factors such as an entering aircraft’s attributes – military or civilian, the extent of threat, or distance.”
“Fighter planes are unnecessary when an entering aircraft is found to pose no threat to us, but necessary surveillance is needed,” he said. “When the entering threat is ascertained to reach a certain extent, military aircraft will be mobilized at an appropriate time to dispose of the situation. It is well-known that civil flights pose no threat in most circumstances.”
After the ADIZ row erupted with China’s Nov. 23 announcement, the U.S. reiterated a stance it has repeatedly periodically over the past decade – that it consider the islands, which Japan calls Senkaku and China calls Diaoyu, to fall under its treaty obligations with Japan.
The relevant article of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security states that, “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.”