Vice-President Biden’s trip to Asia this past week included Japan, China and South Korea, which entailed calming tensions and finger pointing amongst the three pivotal Asian countries. He made it clear from the first step off the plane at each point that he was in control of our American policy and message was clear in our continued in the Pacific region, reports the N.Y. Times.
Vice President Biden has spent four decades visiting Asia since his early days as a young senator in 1979 visiting China.
His first stop was in Japan with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeking to cool an escalating dispute between China and Japan about an air defense zone created by Beijing over contested waters, Mr. Biden was practical. He backed Japan, America’s ally, with strong words while warning China not to scramble fighter jets in the airspace, even as he tacitly conceded that Beijing would never roll back the measure.
Biden reminded both China and Japan that the US had continued to send its unarmed B-52 planes in training missions over the island waters in dispute and would continue to do so as an ally of Japan. Japan and the US have an agreement on training in the East China Sea.
Mr. Biden has diplomatically handled the delicate situation, wishing to preserve both Japanese cooperation as an ally and to pursue issues of common concern with China, such as Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs.
In Beijing Mr. Biden held more than five hours of wide-ranging talks with Xi Jinping, China’s president, during which he told him America does not recognize the new zone. Just before his visit, China’s defense ministry took some modest steps to defuse tensions. A spokesman gave some reassurance about how China will enforce the zone. Fighter planes, he said, are ‘unnecessary’ as long as aircraft entering it pose no threat. This retreat by South Korea to contemplate China brought down tensions.
He seems to have preserved both relationships, acting as a teammate to Secretary of State John Kerry in the Middle East. Mr. Biden has also looked somewhat presidential in doing so, and maintaining the Obama administration’s desire to maintain the pivotal relationship in Asia.
Next Mr. Biden flew from Beijing to Seoul. South Korea is contemplating extending its own air-defense identification zone over Ieodo, a reef zone claimed by both China and Korea. It is also likely to meet objections from America and probably Japan.
Tensions have eased but are still running high. The risk that Mr. Biden repeatedly highlighted was of unintended conflict following an accidental clash in one of these island disputes. If his trip has laid the groundwork for the emergency-communication mechanism that he suggested, it will have achieved much.
‘The good thing about Biden is that his direct style leaves no doubts in Asia about U.S. concerns and wants in a way that a more diplomatic Obama might not,’ said Victor Cha, an adviser on North Korea to President George W. Bush who teaches at Georgetown University.
On Saturday, Vice-President Biden went to the demilitarized zone to view North Korea. His visit was just hours after an American Korean vet, Merrill Newman, was released from being detained in North Korea.
Biden viewed the area north with binoculars and did not have a bullet proof viewing shield as did President Obama on his visit in 2012.
'Welcome to the edge of freedom,' said Lt. Col. Daniel Edwan, commander of the United Nations Command Security Battalion. 'Good to be back,' Mr. Biden replied.
Vice-President Biden may have summed up the trip when he responded to the good news of Newman's release, 'At least there’s one bright piece of sunshine.'