U.S., Chinese diplomats hold lengthy talks, but find no apparent agreement
In candid, face-to-face talks, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping traded arguments Wednesday over China’s contentious new air defence zone, with no consensus about how to defuse an issue that’s raising anxieties across Asia and beyond.
U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden (left) stands with Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao as they listen to their national anthems during a welcome ceremony inside the Great Hall of the People Wednesday. — Photo by The Associated Press
The U.S. will now wait to see whether China, despite international pressure, will enforce the zone — a strip of airspace more than 600 miles long above disputed islands in the East China Sea.
In Washington, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel called China’s announcement of the zone “destabilizing” and complained that it had come “so unilaterally and so immediately without any consultation.”
“That’s not a wise course of action to take for any country,” Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference.
In Beijing, Wednesday’s outcome was not what Biden may have hoped for.
A day earlier, he had stood shoulder to shoulder in Tokyo with the leader of China’s rival, Japan, pledging to raise Washington’s deep concerns with Xi directly in hopes of tamping down tensions in a strategically critical region.
U.S. officials worry that China’s demand that pilots entering the airspace file flight plans with Beijing could lead to an accident or a confrontation spiralling dangerously out of control.
Neither Biden nor Xi mentioned the dispute as they appeared briefly before reporters at the end of their first round of talks. But in private, the issue came up at length at the beginning and again near the end of the long-planned meeting, senior Obama administrtion officials said. In all, Biden and Xi met for more than five hours.
The typically upbeat Biden appeared subdued as he reflected on the complexity of the relationship between China and the U.S., two world powers seeking closer ties despite wide ideological gulfs they have been unable to bridge.
“This new model of major-country co-operation ultimately has to be based on trust, and a positive notion about the motive of one another,” Biden said, flanked by top advisers in a resplendent meeting room steps away from Tiananmen Square.