Biden opens visit to China aimed at easing tensions in Northeast Asia

BEIJING — Vice President Biden spent more than five hours with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, as the men engaged in the first direct high-level talks between the countries aimed at tamping down rising tensions in Northeast Asia.

Although Biden aides said the discussions went well, they reported little progress on the dispute that has flared in recent weeks over China’s bid to control airspace above a chain of islands administered by Japan.

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“You pointed out that change takes place in the world and the challenges” that follow, Biden said to Xi after the initial session, attended only by interpreters and a handful of staff members. “But the way I was raised was to believe that challenges present opportunity.”

Biden arrived in Beijing a day after he met in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and denounced what he described as China’s military provocations in the East China Sea. Aides said the vice president detailed for Xi the objections of the United States, along with those of its allies Japan and South Korea, to China’s declaration of an air defense zone over the contested islands. Biden emphasized that the Obama administration and its allies will not recognize the flight restrictions China has sought to impose, the aides said.

Xi pushed back firmly, arguing that the islands — named Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan — have long been sovereign Chinese territory.

The U.S. delegation was hoping to persuade the Chinese not to aggressively enforce the air defense zone, so as to minimize the potential for accidents or miscalculations. Xi made no promises during the talks.

“Ultimately, President Xi took what the vice president laid out,” said a senior Obama administration official present for some of the discussions, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations. “It’s up to China. We’ll see how things unfold in the coming days and weeks.”

During remarks to U.S. business leaders in China on Thursday morning, Biden said he impressed on Xi that China will have to shoulder more responsibility in the regional security as its economy continues to grow.

China’s move in the East China Sea “has caused significant apprehension in the region,” Biden said. “I was very direct about our firm positions and expectations in my conversation with President Xi. . . . As China grows, its stake in regional peace and stability will grow as well, as they have more to lose.”

Biden said he pressed Xi on human rights, including freedom of the press, in the wake of a controversies over China allegedly urging U.S. news media not to publish investigative stories.

In his brief remarks after the initial meeting, Xi did not mention the East China Sea dispute directly. Sitting across a pair of long tables from Biden, he cautioned that the regional situation is “undergoing profound and complex changes.”

Xi noted that 2014 is the 35th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and China.

“We stand ready to work together with the U.S. side . . . to appropriately handle sensitive issues and differences between us so that together we can make sure our bilateral relationship will continue to move forward in a sustained, healthy and stable way,” he said.

U.S. officials said the delegations also spent considerable time on other issues, including North Korea, Iran, economic matters and a need to build trust between the two countries. Biden highlighted the recent pact on curtailing Iran’s nuclear program reached with major world powers, including the United States and China.

He said that a combination of economic sanctions, dialogue and international pressure had brought Iran to the negotiating table, and he suggested that the same recipe would work with North Korea, U.S. officials said.

Biden described the relationship between the United States and China as “hugely consequential.” And he said he hopes to use his connection with the Chinese leader, who exchanged visits with Biden while serving as China’s vice president, to help defuse the crisis.

“The thing that has impressed me from the beginning — and I said this to the president early on, and he’s concluded as well — is that you are candid, you are constructive,” Biden said. “Developing this new relationship, both qualities are sorely needed. Candor generates trust, and trust is the basis on which real change, constructive change, is made.”

Biden was welcomed to the Great Hall of the People by Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao and a military honor guard. In his opening remarks, Li said that the U.S.-China relationship is the most important in the world and that he thinks Biden’s visit will help build on Xi’s meeting with President Obama in June in California.

The ability of the two countries to work together “is not just a blessing but very important for development and stability in the Asia Pacific and the world,” Li said.

Biden spent a total of 51 / hours with Xi, including meetings and a dinner.

Before his talks with Li, Biden stopped by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where he met with staff members and dropped by the consular offices. Hundreds of Chinese were lined up, clutching paperwork to be processed.

Biden chided China’s authoritarian government, saying he hoped the Chinese, once they arrived in the United States, would “learn that innovation can only occur where you can breathe free, challenge the government, challenge religious leaders.”

Americans have an “inherent rejection of orthodoxy,” Biden said, adding that “children in America are rewarded, not punished, for challenging the status quo.”

Biden had made similar remarks last spring in the United States, drawing criticism from Chinese students who thought he was insulting China.

 
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