It seems the hours of talks US Vice-President Joe Biden had with Chinese leaders last week in Beijing served their purpose and the United States might have got the message, as he said on Friday in Seoul that it is necessary to improve cooperation among the US and its Asian allies so they can get their relationship with China right.
In a speech delivered at South Korea’s Yonsei University after meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Biden said the United States is devoted to promoting cooperation rather than competition with China, and the US, Japan and South Korea should be able to improve cooperation with one another and improve their relationship with China in order to combat shared challenges such as maritime security and the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region.
These are positive remarks, but Washington needs to do more to match words with deeds. To shore up the spirit of cooperation, it may want to readjust its stance and seek to ease, instead of ratchet up, tensions over China’s demarcation of an Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea.
Biden’s week-long visit to Japan, China and South Korea was widely perceived as being sidetracked by the US’ criticism of China’s ADIZ. After China announced the establishment of the ADIZ on Nov 23, the US immediately joined Japan in denouncing China’s move. Their arguments are hardly worth refuting as China’s ADIZ conforms to international law and practices — and many countries, the US and Japan included, have already established such zones.
In his meeting with Biden on Wednesday in Beijing, President Xi Jinping called on the US to respect China’s core interests and major concerns, and reiterated China’s principled position in establishing its ADIZ, making it clear Beijing will not back down on the issue.
In fact, the ADIZ should not have grabbed so much attention as there are far more important issues for Washington and Beijing to discuss. This was the highest-level official contact after the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and with detailed briefings from Chinese leaders, Biden should have focused on helping the Barack Obama administration gauge the direction of China’s future development and how the US can benefit from China’s deepening reform.
In the final analysis, its current stance over China’s ADIZ stems from what it sees as its obligation to stand shoulder to shoulder with Japan, its most important military ally in the Asia Pacific.
But it is unwise for a country to unquestioningly side with an ally, especially one that has developed a penchant for making trouble and provoking others as Japan has. It was Japan that chose to provoke China over the Diaoyu Islands in the first place, the demarcation of an ADIZ over the East China Sea was a justified countermeasure China had to take to defend its territorial waters.
By throwing its weight behind Tokyo, which has wrongly pointed an accusing finger at China’s demarcation of an ADIZ, Washington is risking its improving relations with Beijing. Hence, the US might be advised to rethink its strategies in dealing with its allies and cooperative partners in the light of new changes in the world’s security and political terrain.
Military alliances, as a legacy of the Cold War, are already an outdated concept in international relations. As China’s Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin rightly pointed out last week, military alliances in Asia are no longer relevant. If the region’s economic integration reaches the same level as the European Union there will be no need for them to exist, the senior Chinese diplomat said.
Washington has claimed it has an important stake in the Asia-Pacific region. But as an outside force, it needs to convince the entire region that it can play a constructive role here. It would be counterproductive if Washington only seeks to strengthen ties with old allies and not endeavor to build on sub-regional security mechanisms led by major regional players such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.