US seeks to balance Asia goals, China ties

US seeks to balance Asia goals, China ties

Anyone hoping for some sort of breakthrough on China's air defence identification zone (ADIZ) from US Vice-President Joe Biden's visit to Beijing would no doubt have been disappointed.

Despite Mr Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping spending upwards of five hours together, they emerged from closed-door talks with nary a word to say on what had been the headline issue in the week leading up to the meeting.

Instead, with both leaders' remarks focusing on growing trade and economic links, the contentious issue was left largely in a wait-and-see limbo.

Yet, no one is rushing to call Mr Biden's mission a failure.

Given the complex geopolitical landscape the US Vice-President faced heading into the bilaterals, observers say there was never going to be a chance that Beijing would heed US calls to halt implementation of the ADIZ.

For all the stern statements out of Washington decrying China for unilaterally altering the status quo in the East China Sea, many view Mr Biden's task to be not so much about re-establishing the status quo as to managing a transition. He needed to convince allies that the US is not withdrawing from the region while urging restraint and continuing to grow its relationship with China.

And that is why the message Mr Biden carried on the ADIZ - that Beijing should not go through with its ADIZ procedures or set up another zone elsewhere in the region, and work with its neighbours to lower tensions - was delivered behind closed doors.

"Statecraft requires a balance between clarity and ambiguity, strength and wisdom," said Dr Patrick Cronin, senior adviser and senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Programme at the Centre for a New American Security. He said Mr Biden needed to ensure that the issue did not create a rift in the US-China relationship.

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