Vice President Joe Biden’s endeavors to reassure the Japanese that Washington remains committed to ensuring stability in East Asia may not have been enough for Tokyo. Granted, at his joint media appearance with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Tuesday, Biden was the most forthcoming to date about pushing back against China’s moves to gain control of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.  

Biden specifically pointed out the dangers of China’s unilateral decision to impose an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea, stating that “this action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculations.” But Japan feels slighted because while it continues to ignore Chinese demands that Japanese domestic carriers identify themselves upon entering the zone, U.S. domestic carriers are now complying with Beijing.

Clearly, though, the U.S. challenge is not merely to maintain close ties with Japan. Of course, Japan remains the United States’ single most important ally in the tension-filled region, and both sides have made clear their continued commitment to cooperate not just on regional security matters, but also on global economic, political, and social issues.

But as Biden heads to Beijing to meet with top Chinese officials Wednesday, his task is to ensure steady U.S. relations with China on the one hand, and to encourage Japan and China to reach a reasonable solution over the disputed territories between themselves on the other.

It is a delicate balancing act, and the risk of actions leading to grave, unintended consequences looms large.

For more context on tensions in East Asia, join us at the Wilson Center for the upcoming event:

Sino-Japanese Relations  After the Cold War: Two Tigers Sharing a Mountain
December 12, 2013 4:00 to 5:30pm 
Michael Yahuda, visiting scholar at the Sigur Center of Asian Studies at George Washington University, will examine how politics has shaped the idea of history and identity in both Japan and China. He also explains the role political leadership in each country has played in shaping nationalism in the two countries, and how the evolution of bilateral relations is impacting the politics of economic interdependence.  Yoshihide Soeya, Japan scholar at the Wilson Center and professor of law at Keio University, will be joining Dr. Yahuda as a discussant