Air Defence Identification Zone

Biden's China visit could help defuse air defence zone crisis, say experts

Vice-president's pre-planned trip provides opportunity for both sides to defuse air zone tensions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 November, 2013, 4:38am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 November, 2013, 5:17pm

US Vice-President Joe Biden's visit to China next week could help defuse a potential crisis in Sino-US relations over Beijing's newly declared air defence identification zone, US officials and analysts said.

"Clearly, the visit to China creates an opportunity for the vice-president to discuss with policymakers in Beijing this issue, to convey our concerns directly and to seek clarity regarding the Chinese intentions in making this move at this time," a senior administration official told a briefing on Biden's trip to Asia.

However, the administration official said Biden's visit would cover a broad range of issues.

"He's going to have a very high-level and a very wide-ranging dialogue with the senior Chinese leadership that covers a wide range of shared interests along with areas of concern, areas of co-operation and areas of deconfliction," he said, according to a statement released by the White House.

"And it's especially important, I think, at a time when there is potential in the region for some miscalculation, some mistrust, that we continue to amplify our messages - that we are and always will be there for our allies, and that there is a way for two major powers in the US and China to build a different kind of relationship for the 21st century," the official said.

Biden's visit to Japan, China and South Korea is scheduled to start on Monday.

The pre-planned visit comes just days after two unarmed US B-52 bombers flew through Beijing's newly declared air defence identification zone (ADIZ), which overlaps the existing ADIZ of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and includes the disputed Diaoyu islands, which Japan calls the Senkakus.

While in China on Wednesday and Thursday, Biden will meet President Xi Jinping , Vice-President Li Yuanchao and Premier Li Keqiang .

Analysts fear that rising tensions over the ADIZ could hurt, if not derail, improving Sino-US relations since US President Barack Obama hosted Xi at an informal summit in California.

"Biden's visit next week will be critical and could serve as a way to cool things down a bit," said Jingdong Yuan, an expert in international affairs at the University of Sydney's Centre for International Security Studies.

Zhou Qi , a senior fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of American Studies, said the incident had cast a shadow over the bilateral relationship. But she said Biden's visit might prove to be a godsend for both sides. "We have to wait and see whether they can solve their differences," Zhou said.

Yuan said it remained to be seen if the incident would have an effect on military ties, including next year's PLA participation at the RimPac exercises, the world's largest maritime manoeuvres, in Hawaii.

Yuan said China could also be expected to respond to future US military flights into the ADIZ, although Beijing has multiple options to enforce the zone. "The US has made its statement. Will it take it up further? Such unanswered questions will have a major impact on the US-China military-to-military and the overall bilateral relationship."

Tao Wenzhao , also from the CASS institute, said that while he believed the ADIZ issue would top the agenda in Biden's talks, he did not think the incident would derail the momentum of Sino-US relations, particularly between the two militaries.

"The exchanges … will continue as scheduled as they were agreed on by Xi and Obama as part of efforts to build 'a new type of relations'," Tao said.