WASHINGTON (TIP): Recent actions by China concerning air space over the East China Sea have worried its neighbors and US Vice-President Joe Biden will raise the issue during a visit to Beijing next week, senior US administration officials said on November 27. Biden is due to visit China, Japan and South Korea during a week-long trip. He will seek to de-escalate tensions heightened after China demanded that airplanes flying near contested islands identify themselves to Chinese authorities, officials said.
In a phone call with his Japanese counterpart on Wednesday, US defense secretary Chuck Hagel reaffirmed that the US-Japanese defense treaty covers the small island group where China established a new airspace defense zone last week. Hagel “commended the Japanese government for exercising appropriate restraint” following China’s announcement and pledged to consult closely with Tokyo to avoid unintended incidents around the islands, a Pentagon spokesman said. China recently declared identification rules for planes passing through the new airspace defense zone, raising the stakes in a territorial standoff between Beijing and Tokyo over the contested islands.
Defying those orders, two unarmed US B-52 bombers flew over the islands on Tuesday without informing Beijing and flights of Japan’s main airline similarly ignored Chinese authorities while flying through that air space. “The visit to China to creates an opportunity for the vice president to discuss directly with policy makers in Beijing this issue to convey our concerns directly and to seek clarity regarding Chinese intentions,” a senior administration official told reporters.
“It also allows the vice president to make the broader point that there’s an emerging pattern of behavior that is unsettling to China’s own neighbors, and raising questions about how China operates in international space and how China deals with areas of disagreement with its neighbors,” the official said. Biden will not be making a demand on a specific issue but rather will raise the topic as part of talks spanning a range of themes, the official added.