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In Tokyo, Biden drawn into China air zone dispute

TOKYO (AP) — Hours after touching down in Asia on a long-planned trip, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is being pulled into a messy territorial spat between China and its neighbors.

Biden is meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose government is pressing the U.S. to more actively take Japan's side in an escalating dispute over China's new air defense zone above a set of contested islands in the East China Sea.

Although the U.S. has joined Japan and other allies in refusing to recognize the zone, Washington has treaded carefully, wary of creating a new fault line in its relationship with China just as the U.S. is pursuing a new era of economic cooperation with Beijing.

Whether Biden and Abe appear to be in lockstep will be closely watched by China, as well as other Asian nations worried that the new defense zone may portend further steps by China to assert control in the region. On Monday, China's ambassador to the Philippines claimed China has a sovereign right to establish a similar zone over the South China Sea, where China and the Philippines are locked in another long-running territorial dispute.

The feud promises to trail Biden throughout his weeklong trip to Asia — a tour intended to affirm Washington's continued interest in upping its presence in the region, in part to counter China's growing influence.

"We remain deeply concerned by the announcement," Biden said in a written interview with Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper. "I believe this latest incident underscores the need for agreement between China and Japan to establish crisis management and confidence-building measures to lower tensions."

The zone covers more than 600 miles from north to south, above international waters separating China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. China says all aircraft entering the zone must notify Chinese authorities beforehand or face unspecified defensive measures.

Whether commercial airliners should abide by that requirement has emerged as a point of conflict between the U.S. and Japan in recent days.

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US Vice President Joe Biden (C) sits with Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso (L) and US Ambassdor to Japan Caroline Kennedy (R) during their meeting at the ambassador's residence in Tokyo on December 3.

(AFP)

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