A bipartisan group of senators is asking China to lift the air defense zone it created in November over three deserted islands that both Beijing and Japan claim as their own, going further than what the Obama Administration has requested.
Vice President Joe Biden expressed "deep concerns" to Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit to Beijing in early December about the Air Defense Identification Zone. But he apparently did not ask China to lift it, even though the deserted islands in the East China Sea were actually purchased by Japan. China has requested that it be informed of all flights through the new zone, and the administration has recommended that U.S. commercial carriers comply with that request, The Hill is reporting
"I don't think anyone should be reporting to them," said Sen. Marco Rubio, the highest ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
"If the Chinese are willing to shoot down a civilian aircraft on an illegitimate claim, then they're a criminal government," the Florida senator told The Hill. "Airlines are free to do whatever they choose, but I don't think our government should be telling them to do that because it sends confusing messages."
When China laid claim to the Senkaku islands
and declared the air defense zone, the U.S. immediately flew two B-52 bombers right through it. The U.S. has also sent more ships and has opened more outposts in the region. China is feeling threatened by the move.
While efforts have been made by both Chinese and U.S. officials to calm tensions, neither country has backed down.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said he thought it was a mistake that Biden didn't make the issue central to his meeting with the Chinese leader.
Rubio, along with three Democratic and Republican committee leaders, sent a letter earlier in December to China's ambassador to the U.S asking Beijing to back off.
"We urge your government not to implement this ADIZ as announced, and to refrain from taking similar provocative actions elsewhere in the region," the group wrote. "There is nothing for China to gain by undermining regional stability and threatening the peace and prosperity that is the shared object of all Asia-Pacific nations."
The White House has not taken an official position on the territorial dispute, but Chinese officials say the U.S. has long sided with Japan, citing the fact that the islands are mentioned in the 1960 Defense treaty with Japan.
"It seems absurd that [the U.S.] would commit itself to defend a few small islands it has no position about," said one Chinese military official.
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