China tensions may dominate Biden's Asia trip after sudden air defense zone declared

Vice President Joe Biden is in Japan Tuesday. He was greeted upon his arrival in Tokyo by Caroline Kennedy, the new U.S. ambassador to Japan. Biden says the U.S. is trying to lower tensions in the region after China suddenly declared an air defense zone in the East China Sea. He plans to bring it up when he meets with China's president on Wednesday.

The vice president came to Asia to talk about trade and economic issues, but the conflict over the air defense zone will likely dominate his trip. In a press conference, he reiterated U.S. support of its ally, Japan.

The vice president continued his week-long tour in Asia Tuesday alongside Japan's prime minister. The photo-op signals the early stages of a delicate balancing act for the U.S. amid international protest over China's newly declared air defense zone.

Biden addressed the conflict, saying, "We, the United States, are deeply concerned with the attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea. ... This action has raised regional tensions and increased risk of accidents and miscalculation."

Last week, China's air force deployed fighter jets over that disputed airspace after the U.S., Japan and South Korea sent flights through the region unannounced, defying China's demands.

On Friday, the State Department urged U.S. commercial airlines to comply with China's flight rules over the East China Sea as a safety measure -- a move the Chinese government applauded.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said, "Notifying China...when flying over the air defense zone shows that those airlines wish to coordinate and cooperate with China." 

But the White House maintains China's requirements are illegitimate -- a position the Japanese expect the vice president to make clear this week. Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said, "I think Vice President Biden will tell China that China's actions will unilaterally change the region's status. And that this action is dangerous, and that it will not be accepted."

Biden will travel to China Wednesday. There are already editorials out in Chinese government-affiliated newspapers saying that if Biden is seen as too cozy with the Japanese, he might have less success in China.