US Vice-President Joe Biden wrapped up his mission to China yesterday with a clear message to leaders in Beijing: Our future depends on us working together and managing differences effectively.
After 5-1/2 hours of intensive discussion with President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, Biden spent a leisurely day in Beijing, cracking jokes with his Chinese counterpart Li Yuanchao and Premier Li Keqiang .
Despite the overwhelming media focus on China's newly created air defence identification zone, the topic did not appear to dominate Biden's discussions with Xi. However, Biden did raise the issue again in yesterday's talks with business leaders and the two top Chinese officials.
Overall, he focused on the importance of the two countries building a new kind of relationship and learning how to work out their differences without compromising the greater strategic goals.
"We have our differences and they are real. But there's nothing inevitable about a conflict with China. Nothing inevitable," Biden told the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing. He said it was crucial for the two sides to establish a set of rules that provide for "mutual benefit and growth of both our countries and the region".
"The only path to realising this vision for the future is through tangible, practical co-operation and managing our differences effectively. We've not tried this before," said the vice-president, who then repeated the message again for emphasis.
"This is going to be difficult. But if we get it right, the outcome for our children and grandchildren can be profoundly positive," he said.
Aside from the air defence zone, Biden also took up the cause of foreign journalists facing banishment from China for news coverage, publicly criticising Beijing's efforts to pressure reporters.
But he stressed the importance of developing a "candid, personal and trustful" relationship with China's top leaders.
Biden appeared at ease and was at his best in the meeting yesterday with the Chinese premier and vice-president. When introducing his entourage to Premier Li, Biden described assistant secretary of state Daniel Russel as "somebody who worked in Hollywood as he was wearing sunglasses indoors", and said National Security Council senior director Evan Medeiros was "with the NSA", bringing a smile to his host.
When Li noted that the two countries will soon mark the 35th anniversary of their diplomatic ties, Biden replied that he remembered all those years.
"I can only imagine the progress we can make in the next 35 years if we stay committed to a straightforward and candid relationship that we have developed … It is in our power to do that."
Mainland media played up the "positive approach" of Biden's trip.
"He fell short of publicly calling for China's immediate withdrawal of the air defence identification zone, which Japan had hoped [Biden] could mention. A discrepancy between Tokyo and Washington was spotted in their responses to the newly declared ADIZ over the East China Sea," Xinhua said in a news analysis.
China News Services also pointed out how Biden did not let the issue spoil overall relations with China.
"The two countries have more important issues at hand than the ADIZ," it quoted a mainland expert as saying.