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Biden heads for Asia amid China air zone tensions

US Vice-President Joe Biden is heading for East Asia, amid high tensions in the region over China’s newly-declared air defence identification zone (ADIZ).

Mr Biden will stop first in Tokyo, then head to Beijing and Seoul during his six-day visit.

He will hold talks with leaders of all three nations and on Friday pay a visit to the demilitarised zone which divides the two Koreas.

But the air zone row is likely to dominate the week.

Both the US and Japan have voiced strong criticism of China’s establishment of an ADIZ that includes islands claimed and controlled by Japan. It also includes a submerged rock claimed by South Korea.

China says aircraft operating within its ADIZ must follow certain rules such as filing flight plans, or face “defensive emergency measures”.

US, Japanese and South Korean military aircraft have all defied these rules and Japanese commercial carriers have agreed to a government request not to comply.

On Friday, China scrambled fighter jets to monitor US and Japanese planes flying in the area.

Alliance ‘cornerstone’

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Sunday that he expected to discuss the ADIZ issue with Mr Biden.

Tokyo has told its national carriers JAL and ANA not to file flight plans with the Chinese side when transiting the zone, but on Friday the US said it expected its carriers to “operate consistent with NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) issued by foreign countries”.

Continue reading the main story

Air defence identification zones

  • Zones do not necessarily overlap with airspace, sovereign territory or territorial claims
  • States define zones, and stipulate rules that aircraft must obey; legal basis is unclear
  • During WW2, US established an air perimeter and now maintains four separate zones – Guam, Hawaii, Alaska, and a contiguous mainland zone
  • UK, Norway, Japan and Canada also maintain zones


This did not indicate “US government acceptance of China’s requirements for operating in the newly-declared ADIZ”, the state department said.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency later quoted Mr Abe as saying that Tokyo had confirmed through diplomatic channels that the US government had not asked commercial carriers to submit flight plans.

“We will have in-depth talks about it [the zone issue], and Japan and the United States will address it in close co-ordination with each other,” Mr Abe said on Sunday.

Japan, he said, would “resolutely but calmly deal with Beijing’s attempt to change the status quo” in the region.

Tensions between Japan and China have been high for months because of a territorial row over islands in the East China Sea.

Japan controls the islands, which are called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. They are also claimed by Taiwan and lie in a strategically important area south of Japan and north of Taiwan.

The US has described China’s move as destabilising. In a statement, the White House said Mr Biden would “discuss a full range of bilateral, regional and global issues”.

“The trip will reaffirm our enduring presence as a Pacific power, promote our economic and trade interests, and underscore our commitment to rebalancing US foreign policy towards the Asia-Pacific.”

Mr Biden arrives in Tokyo late on Monday for a visit which, according to the White House, will “reaffirm the enduring strength of the US-Japan alliance as a cornerstone of peace and stability in the region”.

After Tokyo, Mr Biden heads to Beijing for talks with President Xi Jinping and then travels on to South Korea.


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