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Biden, Xi mute on East China Sea islands dispute

US Vice President Joe Biden has emerged from talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, without mentioning a row over a new maritime fly-over zone declared by China. Instead, Biden praised Xi for his "candor."

Future Chinese-US relations had to be based on trust and would play a "significant part" further into the 21st century, said US Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday during his visit to Beijing.

Xi described Biden as an "old friend," who had long worked to improve China-US ties, adding that China and the US should "strengthen dialogue and cooperation."

The shift to a courteous tone followed Biden's remark in Tokyo on Tuesday, while meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that the US was "deeply concerned by the [China's] attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea."

Biden had pledged to Abe that he would raise those concerns "with great specificity" in conversation with Xi and other Chinese leaders.

The Biden-Xi encounter lasted two hours - an hour longer than planned - and preceded a second round of talks involving larger delegations.

Afterwards, Biden told reporters: "Candor creates trust. Trust is the basis on which real change - constructive change - is made."

Maritime, aviation tensions

Japan has been on edge for two weeks since China unilaterally declared an air zone spanning disputed islands and demanded that planes file flight plans before entering.

The zone covers the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, where oil and gas reserves are believed to lie under the adjacent seabed. China claims the islands under the name of Diaoyu. Taiwan calls them Tiaoyutai.

South Korea has also said its military aircraft have flown through the zone without reporting to Chinese authorities.

Competition for regional leadership

As Biden and Xi met on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei insisted that the zone "falls within China's sovereignty."

It is a necessary measure taken by China in exercising its justifiable self-defense rights," Hong said.

Earlier on Wednesday, China's military had warned Japan and the US that it was "fully capable of exercising control" over its self-declared air zone.

An international relations expert at the People's University in Beijing, Cheng Xiaohe, said the tensions reflected "the competition for leadership in East Asia."

ipj/rc (dpa, AFP, AP)

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