China has seemingly opened itself up to talks with its neighbor Japan regarding the safety of aircraft in the controversial air defense identification zone that Beijing controversially announced over the weekend, this after United States Vice President Joe Biden urged Asia’s top two economies to set up channels for resolving their disputes. There has been a lot of criticism in the region and internationally about China’s unilateral announcement of a new air defense zone that threatened the stability of the area, especially as the airspace they claimed overlapped with territories currently controlled by Japan and disputed by both countries.
“China is willing, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, to communicate with Japan to jointly safeguard the order and safety of relevant airspace,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said today. Biden had arrived in Beijing a day after he met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. It seems to most political analysts that China’s offer to communicate reflects efforts by Beijing to force Japan to come to the negotiation table acknowledging that there is a territorial dispute in the East China Sea. So far, Tokyo – including Prime Minister Abe – has denied the existence of such a dispute. China’s air defense zone covers islands claimed by both sides but is currently administered by Japan. Japan has come out consistently saying that sovereignty isn’t an issue with the Senkaku Islands, and has refused any negotiations on the basis of a sovereignty claim.
Biden’s trip, originally intended to pin down a Pacific trade deal and renew the U.S. emphasis on Asia, has been overshadowed by China’s creation of the zone. In a meeting with Xi today, Biden called the U.S.-China relationship “full of promise.” He came out of the meeting praising Xi for being candid and constructive, and said “both qualities are sorely needed.” The two spoke privately for two hours, exceeding the 45 minutes their schedules had allotted them, and neither directly discussed the air zone dispute in their public remarks.