Top Obama administration and Pentagon officials signaled a willingness to temporarily accept China’s new, controversial air defense identification zone on Wednesday. Those officials expressed disapproval for the way in which the Asian power has flexed its muscles, and cautioned China not to implement the zone. But they also carved out wiggle room in which the United States and China ultimately could find common ground on the issue, indicating that they may be willing to live with the zone for now — as long as China backs off its demand that all aircraft traveling through it check in first.
“It wasn’t the declaration of the ADIZ that actually was destabilizing,” said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, America’s highest-ranking military officer. “It was their assertion that they would cause all aircraft entering the ADIZ to report regardless of whether they were intending to enter into the sovereign airspace of China. And that is destabilizing.”
That’s a change from just a few days ago, when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden demanded that China take back its declaration of the zone. And it’s another demonstration that China’s recent decisions have forced the United States to tread carefully. On Wednesday, Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing for more than five hours, according to a senior administration official. In brief public remarks midway through the marathon session, Biden didn’t mention the air defense zone at all.
Japan, a vital American ally, has expressed fury over the Chinese move and ordered its commercial airliners not to provide information about their flight paths to the Chinese military. By contrast, the United States made a point of flying a pair of B-52s through it last week, but seems to have accepted that China will keep the zone in place indefinitely. U.S. officials have shifted their focus instead on preventing a potential military clash between Japan and China.
In meetings in Beijing on Wednesday, Biden laid out the U.S. position in detail, reiterating that the United States does not recognize the new zone and has deep concerns about it, a senior administration official said. Biden told Xi that the United States wants China to take steps to lower tensions in the region, avoid enforcement actions that could lead to crisis, and to establish communication with Japan and other countries in the region to avoid altercations, the administration official added. Privately, Biden did not call for the air defense identification zone it to be rolled back
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