US vice-president Joe Biden will tell Chinese leaders next week the recent establishment of an air defence zone is “unsettling” its neighbours and raises questions about its broader international behaviour.
Mr Biden is expected to use a week-long visit to Asia starting on Sunday to press China about last weekend’s announcement of a new set of flight restrictions over an area including a disputed chain of islands in the East China Sea.
China’s foreign ministry defended the decision yesterday, saying it was a “legitimate action taken to safeguard its legitimate rights”. However, the US has already challenged the move by flying a pair of B52 bombers through the area, and the new Chinese rules are being widely flouted by Japanese airlines. South Korea, Taiwan and Australia have also criticised the move.
Last weekend’s announcement opened up a new front in an increasingly bitter territorial dispute between Asia’s two largest economies over a group of uninhabited islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. The controversy is part of a broader contest for influence in the western Pacific between China, which has invested heavily in its navy over the past two decades, and the US and its allies.
A senior US official said Mr Biden, who visits Japan, China and South Korea next week, would not be “delivering a demarche” to Beijing and would focus on trying to reduce tensions in North Asia. However, the official added: “There is an emerging pattern of [Chinese] behaviour that is unsettling to China’s own neighbours and which raises questions about how China operates in international space and deals with areas of disagreement with its neighbours.”