TOKYO — Seeking to soothe an anxious ally, the U.S. voiced solidarity with Japan on Tuesday against China's claim to airspace over disputed islands, vowing not to tolerate the aggressive move as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden prepared to deliver that message personally to Beijing.
Standing shoulder to shoulder in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Biden said the U.S. is "deeply concerned" about China's attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea. He said he would raise the issue "with great specificity" when he meets Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation," Biden said.
China's recent move to assert authority over the airspace cast a shadow over Biden's first day in Asia, where the vice president also sipped coffee with Japanese lawmakers and toured a tech company's headquarters overlooking Tokyo's sprawling skyline.
The U.S., Japan and other American allies have refused to recognize China's new air defense zone, widely seen as an attempt to solidify China's claim to the islands as part of a broader effort to launch a show of dominance in the region.
But Washington is also wary of creating a new fault line in its relationship with Beijing that could complicate its pursuit of a new era of economic cooperation, forcing the Obama administration to perform a delicate diplomatic dance as it responds to a simmering conflict that has put the entire region on edge.
"The United States has an interest in the lowering of tensions in this part of the region, as I believe all the countries in Northeast Asia share that interest with us," Biden said after meeting here with Abe at the Kantei, the prime minister's official residence.
As Biden headed to the region Monday for a weeklong trip to Japan, China and South Korea, Tokyo was pressing the U.S. to more actively take its side in the escalating dispute.