US says in closed-door talks with China that it doesn't recognise air defence zone

United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden (right) introduces his delegation members to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang before heading to their meeting at the Zhongnanhai diplomatic compound in Beijing on Dec 5, 2013. Not a word was made publicly about C
United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden (right) introduces his delegation members to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang before heading to their meeting at the Zhongnanhai diplomatic compound in Beijing on Dec 5, 2013. Not a word was made publicly about China's controversial air defence zone, but behind closed-doors, Mr Biden told Mr Xi in detail that the US does not recognise the move and wants it to take steps to lower tensions. -- PHOTO: AFP  

Not a word was made publicly about China's controversial air defence zone, but behind closed-doors, visiting US Vice-President Joe Biden told Chinese President Xi Jinping in detail that the United States does not recognise the move and wants it to take steps to lower tensions.

In response, Mr Xi laid out "a comprehensive case" for China's Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) that was launched on Nov 23 in the East China Sea and overlaps with similar zones of neighbours like Japan and South Korea.

Senior US officials revealed to reporters the contents of discussions between the two who spent a total of five and a half hours over two bilateral meetings and a dinner on Wednesday, discussing wide-ranging issues such as North Korea and China's recent policy summit that has pledged economic and social reforms over the next decade.

"They obviously spoke about the air defence identification zone and about the broader regional issues that are implicated in that (zone) in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea," said officials in a transcript released late Wednesday night by the White House.

"And the Vice-President laid out our position in detail. He indicated, as we've said, that we don't recognise the zone, that we have deep concerns about it."

The two leaders, who met the media after their meetings, had made no mention of the controversial ADIZ and spoke only about the significance of the Sino-US relationship and ways to advance it.

The zone has heightened tensions in an already volatile region roiled by disputes between China and Japan over a group of islands known as Diaoyu to Beijing and Senkaku to Tokyo.

The US and Japan charge that China is trying to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea with its ADIZ that overlaps with Japan's over the disputed islands. Washington, Tokyo and Seoul have sent military planes into the ADIZ without complying with the rules, in protest.

China has insisted that it is within its sovereign right to set up such a zone, which requires aircraft flying through to observe self-identification rules or face "defensive emergency response".

Reiterating comments he made in Tokyo, the first-leg of his week-long swing through the region since Monday, Mr Biden told Mr Xi the US is looking to China to take steps to lower tensions and to avoid enforcement actions that could lead to crisis.

He also urged Beijing to set up channels of communication with Japan and other neighbours to "avoid the risk of mistake, miscalculation, accident or escalation".

Mr Xi was "equally comprehensive" in laying out China's perspective on the zone, on their view of territorial disputes in the region and broader regional tensions, said US officials, adding that he explained China's thinking on these issues at some length.

"But ultimately President Xi took on board what the Vice-President laid out, and now, from our perspective, it's up to China. And we'll see how things unfold in the coming days and weeks."

A despatch by the Xinhua news agency on Wednesday night made no mention of the ADIZ issue but highlighted how both stressed the importance of trust and regular dialogue in improving bilateral ties and cooperation.

Mr Xi described trade cooperation as the "propeller' for China-US relations as he called for expanded cooperation in areas such as trade, infrastructure building, urbanisation and food security.

He also said both sides should speed up talks on a bilateral investment treaty that was re-launched in July this year, and promote the upcoming 24th meeting of the China-US Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT), which is tasked to address trade issues and promoting commercial opportunities between both countries.

"We hope the US will relax export control over high-tech products for civilian use to China," Mr Xi was quoted as saying.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg