Biden's visit: Sino-US Progress, despite distrust

By Dan Steinbock
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, December 6, 2013
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During U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Beijing, the public spotlight focused on the East China Sea, where China recently established a new air defense identification zone (ADIZ). The contested islands, which are called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, are at the very center of the dispute within the new ADIZ.

The first reaction in Washington was to criticize the ADIZ as a "destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region." But things went from bad to worse, when Washington had two unarmed B-52 bombers fly over the islands.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with US Vice President Joe Biden during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Dec. 4, 2013. [Photo/Xinhua]

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with US Vice President Joe Biden during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Dec. 4, 2013. [Photo/Xinhua]

To many observers, the scheduling of VP Biden's visit right in the middle of the dispute could not have been more unfortunate. However, that view is a bit too grim. The glass is not half empty, but half full. In other words, what really matters is that Washington and Beijing continue to talk, even when they strongly disagree.

Besides, as important as the ADIZ debate is, it is only one of the many issues on the table in the current Sino-U.S. relations.

Dual approach

Vice President Biden's visit exemplified the evolving dual approach to bilateral policy issues. During his more than five hours talks with President Xi Jinping, the real focus was on developing a new path for both nations to manage their policy differences, in order to ensure that the two can cooperate even amidst serious disagreements.

On the other hand, Biden explained the U.S. position and "deep concerns" over the ADIZ, human rights, including freedom of the press and U.S. journalists in China. He talked about the situation in North Korea, the pact on curtailing Iran's nuclear program and diverse economic issues.

The tone for frank and direct talks was set by President Xi a few months ago with President Obama during the shirt-sleeves summit in Rancho Mirage, California. It's a style Americans appreciate and Biden cherishes.

Joe Biden is a veteran Democratic politician who was first elected to the Senate some 40 years ago in 1972, when President Nixon first visited Beijing and the Sino-U.S. relations took a new, positive course. As a long-term member and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Biden has played a vital role in international affairs. As vice president, he has been heavily involved in President Obama's decision-making process. He also held the critical oversight role for infrastructure spending from the Obama stimulus package in the 2008/9 great recession.

Biden is known to speak his mind, but he can negotiate difficult deals as well. If President Obama knows how to reach the white-collar elites, Biden's voice resonates among ordinary blue-collar Americans. His ability to negotiate with Congressional Republicans has been vital from the onset of the global financial crisis to the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which addressed the impending "fiscal cliff."

In Beijing, Biden can be seen as the kind of vice president who will not mince his words, but will remain cool under pressure.

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