Vice President Joseph Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday and reportedly argued against China’s contested new air-defense zone in the East China Sea. A senior Chinese official said Xi listened, but any decision on the matter is “up to China.” Kojo talks to the director of a leading Chinese think tank about why China made this move, what it means for U.S.-China relations and growing tensions in Asia.


  • Robert Daly Director, Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center
  • Ruan Zongze Vice President, China Institute of International Studies


  • 13:42:32

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIVice President Joseph Biden met in Beijing yesterday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and reportedly raised American concerns about China's newly declared air defense zone over contested islands in the East China Sea. But when the two leaders emerged from their five-hour meeting, there was no mention of the dispute that's creating new tensions in Asia. Joining me to look at China's move and the responses in Asia and the U.S. is Robert Daly, Director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States and the Wilson Center. He joins us by phone from the Wilson Center.

  • 13:43:06

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIRobert Daly, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:43:07

    MR. ROBERT DALYThank you, Kojo.

  • 13:43:09

    NNAMDIAlso joining us is Ruan Zongze. He is Vice President of the China Institute of International Studies, the think-tank of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ruan Zongze, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:43:21

    MR. RUAN ZONGZEThank you, Kojo.

  • 13:43:22

    NNAMDIHe also joins us by phone from the Wilson Center. Robert, I'll start with you. Explain the significance of the disputed islands in the East China Sea. China controlled them, then the Japanese seized them in the 1890s, surrendered the islands to the U.S. after Japan's defeat in World War II. The U.S. then granted administration of the islands back to the Japanese. Now, China is claiming an air defense zone above them.

  • 13:43:46

    DALYYes. The history, as you suggest, is very complicated. And most international analysts of the dispute would say that both Japan and China make some legitimate points. And both make selective use of history. The Japanese would take issue with your saying that China had controlled them. But there are clear, old Chinese maps and even Japanese records from the Meiji period that did identify the islands as Chinese. So, in terms of who has the better historical case, I think that most Americans who have looked at it closely would probably say China's is slightly better.

  • 13:44:17

    DALYBut nobody thinks that this issue's going to be solved primarily with reference to history. It's going to be solved looking forward.

  • 13:44:24

    NNAMDIRuan, why did China establish this new air-defense zone? And why now? Ruan Zongze?

  • 13:44:30

    ZONGZEHi. Well it is a consistent issue for China. Apparently, as Daly mentioned, there is a long-time dispute over the sovereignty of Diaoyu Islands, it is the China Sea between China and Japan, actually there's no status-quo anymore. It is the China Sea since it had been changed by Japan's nationalization of the Diaoyu Island last year. So Japan already established its air defense identification zone. It is the China Sea, over 40 years ago, which illegally covers Diaoyu Islands. So China's response, I mean, China established their ADIZ is the latest effort to response. So they shouldn't be surprised and have no panic.

  • 13:45:17

    NNAMDIRuan Zongze, on a broader question, what is your reaction to yesterday's meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and American Vice President Joseph Biden? How would you describe China's attitude towards its relationship with the United States?

  • 13:45:34

    ZONGZEWell, basically the meeting has gone on pretty well -- is somewhat well received. And two things that I hear. First of all, the two, Vice President Biden and President Xi Jinping, they spent over five hours. It has been extraordinary to spend such a long time to tackle the problem and exchange views on various kinds of issues. This is number one. Number two, the -- actually the agenda for their conversation is much broader than just the ADIZ. The cover North Korea issue -- nuclear issues, and many other stuff. And, of course, the ADIZ issue came into their conversation.

  • 13:46:18

    ZONGZEAs I understand, America expresses their view and the Chinese sides also push back very firmly.

  • 13:46:26

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Ruan Zongze. He is vice president of the China Institute of International Studies, the think-tank of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He joins us by phone as does Robert Daly who is director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center. You can call us at 800-433-8850 if you'd like to join the conversation. Or send email to Robert Daly, the Japanese, it seems, would have liked the United States to take a stronger stand against the air-defense zone. But Vice President Biden didn't do it on his visit yesterday.

  • 13:47:01

    NNAMDICan you explain the U.S. reaction to China's declaration of an air-defense zone over the disputed islands?

  • 13:47:06

    DALYRight. I think, first, in terms of terminology, it's important to note that it's an air-defense identification zone. And it's about identifying the planes that pass through it. I think that when some Americans hear this phrase, they think it's a no-fly zone and a claim that these airs are Chinese territory. China is very explicitly not making that claim. It's established a zone like one that we have in North America. Japan, Korea, Taiwan, all have them because they want to know who might be coming through this airspace who could be a threat to China.

  • 13:47:36

    DALYOne of the differences with China's air-defense zone -- and this is something that America is concerned about -- is that our own defense zone, we only identify and focus on those planes that have an intent to enter American air space. As China described its air-defense identification zone, it seemed to be claiming the right to follow, track, identify, even planes that were just passing through it, say north to south, along China's coast. This was a little bit different.

  • 13:48:04

    DALYAs you say, the Japanese might have liked us to take a stronger stand -- although flying two B52s through the zone the day after China announced it, would seem pretty strong -- but America's not in the position to demand that China rescind the zone, as some have suggested. China is within its rights to have an air-defense identification zone. Nobody disputes that. And I think that Biden, who made a strong representation to President Xi, knows well that China is not going to rescind the zone. So America doesn't want to make a demand that it can't enforce.

  • 13:48:34

    NNAMDIRuan Zongze, some western experts say this move is part of a slow and steady attempt by China to claim more territory in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. What do you think?

  • 13:48:47

    ZONGZENo, not at all. I strongly disagree with that kind of observation. As a matter of fact, what China has done recently to establish this air-defense identification zone is -- as my point of view, we should have done that much earlier than last month. So it is a kind of basically defensive measures, rather than offensive. So and it does not affect any kind of a claim by China. Its position had been there pretty consistent in the long time. But here's -- the problem is, really here in the Western Pacific. It's really getting very much crowded.

  • 13:49:31

    ZONGZEHere you have China, you have the United States, and have Japan. I think this is actually the time for probably for the countries concerned to really to think about how to accommodate with each other, because the Western Pacific, the future will be largely defined by this kind of relationship.

  • 13:49:54

    NNAMDINow that you're talking about finding a way among these countries to try to work this out and cooperate with one another, Ruan, what is China's reaction to the alarm being expressed in Japan and in some of the American media over what some there -- some in those countries perceive as an aggressive move by China?

  • 13:50:17

    ZONGZEWell, as a matter of fact, I myself am not surprised about all these narratives and the mediums, the comments on that. By the way, what else we can expect? We shouldn't have expected the otherwise. But the point is, I have to mention, there is also -- of course, there are lots of convergence of interest between the United States and in Japan. But in the same time, we have to also recognize, there is a different view and a differences between Tokyo and Washington. For example, the response.

  • 13:50:50

    ZONGZEIf we look at it carefully, the responses from Washington and Tokyo, respectively, to the ADIZ, we can tell the differences. Particularly, I think, we should appreciate America is take a very delicate approach, which is very much measured. On one hand, it's worth demonstrate that America is an ally of Japan, but in the same time, I don't think it serves American interests to oppose a kind of confrontational posture with China.

  • 13:51:24

    NNAMDIRobert Daly, you have said that China's claim of the air-defense identification zone, what we call ADIZ, what others may call ADIZ, because it's harmful -- it's harmful to China's short-term interests, but possibly beneficial to its long-term interests also.

  • 13:51:43

    DALYWell, I think that in the short term China has taken a hit on its soft power. China's very interested in developing soft power or an attractive power. It wants its neighbors, it wants the whole world to see China as rising in a peaceful, non-threatening way. And the announcement of the ADIZ, while I agree with Professor Ruan, that China is within its rights and that China was doing this in part to be consistent, I think that's correct.

  • 13:52:12

    DALYNevertheless, there's no question but that this move has been interpreted as an escalation and that it tends to confirm some of the worst suspicions of Chinese neighbors that China is actually aimed very slowly through accretion through small steps at becoming the dominant power in Asia. China, through this zone, I think, has also raised the expectations of the Chinese people that it will be the master of this zone -- even through the Chinese government has made very clear that's not what it's aiming at. But I think it is raising the expectations of the Chinese people.

  • 13:52:46

    DALYAnd China very much wants good relations of a certain kind with the United States -- something they call a new model of major power relations. This, I think, makes it a little bit tricky. The American government has made military flights through the zone since China announced it, to put down a marker that says we are not going to pay any attention to this zone for military flights. But the FAA has advised civic carriers that it should comply as a safety matter with the China zone. Now China has welcomed this as an enlightened move on the part of the Americans. Japan has not done this.

  • 13:53:19

    DALYBut I think it's actually not a good PR move for the Chinese, because telling the Americans they face a safety issue, advising compliance is really to say, you'd better comply because if you don't and you're just flying through this zone, we think there's a chance the Chinese might shoot you down. I'm not sure that's a great message for China to be sending to the American people right now. So, but I also think that China is in this game to stay. And it is establishing new facts on the ground.

  • 13:53:43

    DALYI think that its ADIZ will probably hold and I would expect to see new Chinese zones in the Yellow Sea and possibly in the South China Sea as well in the not-too-distant future. I think that this Chinese policy, in the long run, may well succeed for China.

  • 13:53:57

    NNAMDIRuan Zongze, can you explain how China sees its role in the region and its relationships with its neighbors?

  • 13:54:06

    ZONGZEWell, it's fundamentally important for China to very much committed, very or nurture, a very friendly, liberally relationship with its neighboring countries, including Asian countries, and also as well Japan. Of course, America is everybody's neighbor, so we are very much committed to have a good relationship with Washington. But the point at here is that, well, on one hand, China -- when China grows and becomes stronger and world prosperers, it is certainly demand more space.

  • 13:54:44

    ZONGZEAnd also China, at the same time, wants to make sure that this kind of demand should not be perceived as a challenge or a confrontation to other interests. So how should we litigate to the uncharted water in the future is a big test, not only for China, but also for its neighboring countries. My final thought about it is actually I think there is a tremendous opportunity for China and its neighboring countries, because China currently is taking a more initiative approach, trying to spread advantages, opportunities to the neighboring countries.

  • 13:55:25

    ZONGZEAnd then now, currently, there is over 120 countries that becomes the first number-one trading partner of China. So there's a great stake in China to ensure we will have a peaceful and a stable environment so China can focus on its Chinese dream, for example.

  • 13:55:46

    NNAMDIAnd, Robert Daly, we just heard Ruan talking about China's interest in trade relations. But are there any implications for security and peaceful relations among China, Japan, Korea and other nations in the Western Pacific?

  • 13:55:59

    DALYThrough the establishment of this ADIZ?

  • 13:56:01


  • 13:56:01

    DALYI think in the short term there is, because this ADIZ, as I said, one, it makes claims on all planes passing through the space, even if they don't intend to enter Chinese airspace. And it also overlaps with Korean, Taiwanese and Japanese zones. And all three of -- Taiwan and the countries of Korea and Japan don't honor this zone. And it also overlaps an underwater feature, a submerged feature or island that South Korea claims as its territory. And, of course, the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands that Japan claims.

  • 13:56:36

    DALYAnd so now with traffic in the area going up, as Professor Ruan has mentioned, with animosity toward zones and the refusal to identify planes or to declare intentions, this could be destabilizing. That said, I do want to agree with most of what Professor Ruan said, that China's rise is, in the main, legitimate. And its desire for more space and to have more control -- or at least to know what is going on, to be able to identify carriers in its inner seas and airspace, this is a legitimate concern on China's side that we need to find a way to work with. But it needs to be more consultative.

  • 13:57:12

    NNAMDIWe mentioned that both you and professor are joining us by phone from the Wilson Center today. What's going on there -- in 30 seconds or less?

  • 13:57:20

    DALYWhy don't you take it, Professor Ruan?

  • 13:57:22

    ZONGZEOh, okay. Yeah, currently aware, my institute, the China International Institute -- Institute of International Studies is in collaboration with the Kissinger Institute at the Wilson Center on a workshop on "The New Type of Major Power Relationship." So we are trying to focus on how -- what kind of distrust, or what we can do to contribute to this new type of major power relationship.

  • 13:57:50

    NNAMDIWell, thank you very much, both of you, for taking time off from that important discussion to join this conversation. Ruan Zongze is Vice President of the China Institute of International Studies, a think-tank of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And Robert Daly is Director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center. Once again, thank you both for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:58:29

    NNAMDIComing up tomorrow on the politics hour, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray fires up his campaign for a second term. Pepco's proposed rate hikes sparks push-back in Maryland. And the candidates in Virginia's heated attorney general race dig in for a recount. The politics hour tomorrow at Noon on WAMU 88.5 and streaming at And for listeners in Ocean City, Maryland, it's Coastal Connection with Bryan Russo.

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