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Biden rebukes China for imposing air defense zone over disputed islands

December 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Now to rising tensions in Asia and the United States’ strong words for China.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The only conflict that is worse than one that is intended is one that is unintended.

GWEN IFILL: The vice president issued that warning in Tokyo today, on the first stop of a weeklong Asia tour. He sought to reassure an anxious Japan, as a tense standoff continues with China over which country controls a string of uninhabited islands.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: We, the United States, are deeply concerned by the attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea. This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation.

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GWEN IFILL: The dispute over the islands, known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan, has spiked sharply during the past 10 days. It began when China announced a 600-mile-long East China Sea air defense zone, which includes the islands’ airspace.

The U.S. ignored that declaration by dispatching two unarmed B-52 bombers to fly over the islands, ostensibly part of a training mission, without informing the Chinese first. On Wednesday, Beijing announced it knew about the flights, but it offered no insight into how the zone might be enforced.

QIN GAN, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through interpreter): We have said many times before that we will react accordingly, depending on the extent of possible threats we are facing and the circumstances.

GWEN IFILL: A day later, Japan announced its aircraft, too, are continuing surveillance missions in the region, also ignoring China’s demand that they get permission first.

YOSHIHIDE SUGA, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary (through interpreter): We have no plans to change what we are doing out of consideration to China.

GWEN IFILL: South Korea, which has interests in the East China Sea as well, said it also wouldn’t recognize China’s new defense zone.

KIM MIN-SEOK, South Korean Defense Ministry (through interpreter): As of now, the South Korean government will allow our airplanes to pass the zone without notifications to China.

GWEN IFILL: Chinese officials have not backed down and instead accused Japan of refusing to negotiate in good faith.

HONG LEI, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through interpreter): China proposed that China and Japan should enhance communication and dialogue to properly solve the issue of flight safety in the overlapping zone. We have demonstrated our sincerity, but the Japanese side on one hand keeps saying we should talk, but when it comes to dialogue, they keep the door closed.

GWEN IFILL: All of this comes against the backdrop of China asserting its growing economic and military might. Last week, the Chinese sent their sole aircraft carrier into the South China Sea, where other territorial and mineral rights are in dispute.

Vice President Biden, who will visit South Korea later in the week and Beijing tomorrow, says he will raise the airspace issues with China’s president.