Despite tensions, China and US will focus on the bigger picture
Diplomacy and common sense will restore some perspective to the anxieties prompted by Beijing's proclamation of a new air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea. The visit to Beijing tomorrow by US Vice-President Joe Biden is key to defusing tensions. China has every right to declare such a zone, like nearly 20 other maritime countries, but the fact that it covers islands in dispute with Japan and South Korea, and that it came as a surprise, has caused unusually strong reactions from those countries, as well as Japan's ally the US, and other nations.
The declaration of the ADIZ is consistent with the expansion of China's maritime power, not to mention Japan's increasingly aggressive stance over the islands. But it was devoid of explanation or context.
China has since supplied some by clarifying that the ADIZ is not Chinese sovereign space and that it was "incorrect" to suggest that China could shoot down planes that entered the zone without giving notice. Washington also helped ease the tension by advising American airlines to comply with Beijing's demand to be notified of their flights through the new zone.
Indeed, China and the US will determine the course of the dispute now. Biden's visit to Beijing, as well as Tokyo and Seoul, originally meant to be mainly about economic issues, will now be dominated by rising tensions.
Following China's economic rise and its need to source energy supplies all over the world, it is inevitable that it will try to expand its maritime power and influence in the region and beyond. Concerns about China's rise are also understandable. Its expansion is bound to test geopolitical patterns from time to time, which means there is bound to be similar friction in the future. Despite international pressure, Beijing is unlikely to yield in tomorrow's talks. But this is unlikely to lead to any deterioration in Sino-US ties because they are focused on the bigger picture - a complex relationship that balances confrontation and co-operation.