TOKYO: Seeking to soothe an anxious ally, the US voiced solidarity with Japan on Tuesday against China’s claim to airspace over disputed islands, vowing not to tolerate the aggressive move as US Vice President Joe Biden prepared to deliver that message personally to Beijing.
Standing shoulder to shoulder in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Biden said the US is “deeply concerned” about China’s attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea. He said he would raise the issue “with great specificity” when he meets Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation,” Biden said.
China’s recent move to assert authority over the airspace cast a shadow over Biden’s first day in Asia, where the vice president also sipped coffee with Japanese lawmakers and toured a tech company’s headquarters overlooking Tokyo’s sprawling skyline.
The US, Japan and other American allies have refused to recognize China’s new air defense zone, widely seen as an attempt to solidify China’s claim to the islands as part of a broader effort to launch a show of dominance in the region.
But Washington is also wary of creating a new fault line in its relationship with Beijing that could complicate its pursuit of a new era of economic cooperation, forcing the Obama administration to perform a delicate diplomatic dance as it responds to a simmering conflict that has put the entire region on edge.
“The United States has an interest in the lowering of tensions in this part of the region, as I believe all the countries in Northeast Asia share that interest with us,” Biden said after meeting here with Abe at the Kantei, the prime minister’s official residence.
As Biden headed to the region Monday for a weeklong trip to Japan, China and South Korea, Tokyo was pressing the US to more actively take its side in the escalating dispute.
One issue involved US guidance to American commercial airlines about complying with airspace restrictions, which Japan perceived as potential acquiescence to China. Reluctant to cede any ground, Tokyo has been urging Japanese commercial flights not to notify China before flying through the zone.
The zone covers more than 600 miles from north to south, above international waters separating China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. China says all aircraft entering the zone must notify Chinese authorities beforehand or face unspecified defensive measures.
Invoking the decades-old defense treaty between the US and Japan, Abe said he and Biden confirmed that neither country should tolerate China’s move, adding that both countries’ air forces would continue to fly through without filing flight plans with China.
But Abe appeared to smooth over any conflict between the US and Japan over commercial flights as he and Biden spoke to reporters after their meeting.
“We further agreed we will not condone any actions that could threaten safety of civilian aircraft,” Abe said, without elaborating.