INTERVIEW/ Joe Biden: Japan, China need crisis management framework

December 02, 2013

By YOICHI KATO/ National Security Correspondent

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's three-nation swing through Northeast Asia starting Dec. 2 comes at a time when China's designation of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea has ratcheted up tensions in the region.

“We remain deeply concerned,” Biden said regarding the establishment of the ADIZ, which overlaps zones established by Japan and South Korea, and China's subsequent posturing.

In a written interview with The Asahi Shimbun, preceding his visit to Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul, the vice president pointed out, “This latest incident underscores the need for agreement between China and Japan to establish crisis management and confidence building measures to lower tensions.” Biden, whose visit to Japan is the first leg of his Asian tour, expressed his intention to speak to these issues during his three-nation swing.

As for the slow-moving negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade arrangement, which the Obama administration strongly wants to be concluded by the end of this year, he called for mutual concessions among the member states, including Japan, saying, “The most important thing is that countries make the tough choices necessary to deliver a successful agreement.”

Biden admitted that some may question the staying power of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region, but flatly denied the belief that it may not have enough political and financial assets to implement its rebalance strategy. The vice president concluded, “Economically, diplomatically, militarily, we have been, we are, and we will remain a resident Pacific power.”

The full text of the interview follows:

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Question: With regard to China’s recent announcement of setting up its own ADIZ over the East China Sea, the United States responded with strong and immediate criticism by both Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. But the Chinese government responded with counter-criticism, which demanded that the United States "stop making irresponsible comments.” What would be the next step of actions that the U.S. government would take? What message do you plan to convey to China, when you visit Beijing after Tokyo?

Answer: We remain deeply concerned by the announcement of a new Air Defense Identification Zone. Secretaries Kerry and Hagel outlined in detail our position on this action in their statements on Nov. 23. 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.

During my travel in the region this week, I look forward to speaking to these issues. I will reaffirm the strength of our alliance commitments and emphasize the importance of avoiding actions that could undermine peace, security and prosperity in the region.

Q: Twelve member states of the TPP are all committed to reaching an agreement by the end of this year. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman mentioned that they would not reach a bad deal just to meet the artificial deadline. As we still see many difficult issues left on the table, do you think they can still reach a deal by the end of this year?

A: What I can tell you is that our negotiators are working around the clock, full speed ahead. All countries--including mine--are grappling with sensitive issues. The most important thing is that countries make the tough choices necessary to deliver a successful agreement. Because if we get it right, the Trans-Pacific Partnership can be a force for growth and opportunity in countries representing 40 percent of the world economy. It can be a gold standard for a new model of high-quality trade agreements, one that is helping to set the rules of the road in the 21st century. The Japanese people know this, which is why they overwhelmingly support Japan’s membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Q: The joint statement of the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee meeting, commonly called the "two-plus-two" meeting, held on Oct. 3 in Tokyo states that the United States welcomes Japan’s effort to review the long-held ban on the exercise of its right to collective defense. But it has invited strong criticism from South Korea and China. How do you think this policy initiative can be turned into a new asset to the alliance and also the stability of the region?

A: In October, our two countries agreed to modernize our bilateral defense guidelines in cyber security, ballistic missile defense and other areas. When you consider the threat to regional stability posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, it’s easy to understand why. We hope these changes will also allow Japan to play an even greater role than they already do in supporting international peace and security. We saw this most recently in Japanese contributions to the response to the typhoon in the Philippines.

We welcome the steps Japan has taken to explain these efforts to its neighbors to prevent misinterpretations. Regarding the Republic of Korea, we believe that Northeast Asia will be strongest when its two leading democracies work together to meet common threats, and when the three of us--the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea--work together to advance common interests and values.

Q: The U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region was described as “a cornerstone” of the administration’s foreign policy in a recent speech by National Security Advisor Susan Rice. But there is an increasingly widely shared view in Japan and the region that the Obama administration may not have enough political capital or the financial assets to implement it as originally planned. There is even a view that the rebalance may end up being just a “bumper sticker.” How do you respond to this kind of concern and skepticism?

A: I disagree completely. Yes, some question our staying power. But Japan knows that we have stayed for more than 60 years, providing the security that made possible the region’s economic miracle. Economically, diplomatically, militarily, we have been, we are, and we will remain a resident Pacific power. And under President Obama, we have only elevated our engagement.

When a typhoon hits the Philippines, when a triple tragedy strikes Japan, when a tsunami comes ashore in Southeast Asia--each time, Americans are there.

Economically, we are close to concluding a new Trans-Pacific Partnership that will bring together countries representing 40 percent of the world’s economic output--modeled on the vision of economic openness and fair competition the United States has championed for decades.

Strategically, we are enhancing and diversifying our force posture.

And the revival of the American economy--from plunging federal deficits to millions of new jobs to massive new supplies of natural gas--ensures that America will have not just the resolve but the resources to exercise leadership in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come.

Q: How do you see the progression of “Abenomics”? What are important issues that Japan needs to tackle?

A: We welcome Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s strong commitment to continuing reforms in fiscal and economic policy because Japan’s success is profoundly in the interest of the United States. We support economic reform efforts to increase labor market mobility, bring more women into the workforce, modernize corporate governance, and liberalize and deregulate markets in areas such as agriculture. The choices ahead are Japan’s alone to make. But a vibrant Japanese economy is good for America, good for the region and good for the world economy. One area in which I am particularly interested in is women in the workforce. I really believe that once Japan unleashes the full power of women’s participation in the labor market, it will be a real shot in the arm for the Japanese economy. I’m looking forward to participating in a small roundtable discussion on my trip with a group of women at various stages of their careers. We’ll talk about the obstacles and the challenges that they face, but also about some ways to move forward.

* * *

Joe Biden is the 47th vice president of the United States.

By YOICHI KATO/ National Security Correspondent
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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (AP file photo)

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (AP file photo)

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  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (AP file photo)

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