Biden Visits China Amid Tension With Japan

Vice President Joe Biden holds a second day of talks with Chinese leaders in Beijing on Thursday amid increasing tensions over the East China Sea. While he was visiting Japan earlier in the week, Biden criticized China's actions in declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone over disputed islands in the area. The issue has cast a pall over Biden's visit to Beijing, with official Chinese media accusing the vice president of taking Japan's side in the territorial dispute.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So there's a long history behind this conflict. There appears to be an agreement to hold off on the conflict, at least for a bit, and NPR's Anthony Kuhn is still with us. And Anthony, can you tell us, does it appear then that a crisis has been averted?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, at least postponed. I mean, you know, they covered topics in their talks, Steve.

INSKEEP: The two leaders, right.

KUHN: The two leaders. For example, you know, how the situation in Iran impacts North Korea, and basically, as they have done many times, they decided that the U.S. and China have so many interests in common, so many areas where they need each other, that they won't let any disturbance mess up the whole relationship.

Let's hear what President Xi Jinping told Vice President Biden on that score.

PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Through interpreter) I said, well, as the world's two largest economies and two permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and the United States showed important responsibilities for upholding world peace and stability and promoting human development and progress. To strengthen dialogue and cooperation is the only right choice facing both of our countries.

INSKEEP: Okay. So Anthony, it's under this new president that the conflict escalated because it's only been very recently that China declared this air defense zone, but it's now the new Chinese president who says we really ought to get past this. What does this say about Xi Jinping?

KUHN: Well, one thing to know is that I think the Chinese population has been pretty supportive. He has scored points with a nationalistic constituency with these tough moves, and now I think it also helps to say about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan is a U.S. ally and a democratic country, but they are ways in which these two countries leaders are kind of similar.

They're both political blue bloods. They both want to expand the power of the state, both vis-a-vis their citizens and foreign nations, and both of them have scored points with nationalistic constituencies by making these moves, which have increased regional tensions. So you know, perhaps here they achieved what they wanted to do for domestic political reasons and now they're moving ahead.

INSKEEP: Now, this is really interesting because, of course, China is not a democracy, but you're saying, Anthony Kuhn, that domestic politics plays a big role in this foreign policy situation, in a similar way that it might in any other country.

KUHN: I think that's true, but I think this is just, you know, the two agendas that China's and Japan's leaders have. You know, they actually both want to change the post World War II order in Asia and have a more robust posture for both nations and both of them involve the U.S.

INSKEEP: And this brings them into conflict. Now, what's next for Vice President Biden, who, as we mentioned, was in Japan, was in China and has now moved on?

KUHN: Well, he is now off to Seoul, South Korea. The difficulty there is that the Japanese and the South Koreans have a major dispute over World War II history and that conflicts prevent them from cooperating well on the China issue and also on North Korea, which is very pressing. So we'll probably hear more from him when he has - when Vice President Biden has a chance to speak to the media there.

INSKEEP: Conflicts that grow out of history and are complicated by history. Anthony, thanks very much.

KUHN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Beijing correspondent Anthony Kuhn. We also heard this morning from NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, about the efforts to resolve a dispute between the United States, China and other nations. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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