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Biden to meet Japan leaders amid China tensions

US Vice President Joe Biden waves upon his arrival at the Tokyo International Airport on December 1, 2013 on the first leg of his Asian tour
US Vice President Joe Biden waves upon his arrival at the Tokyo International Airport on December 1, 2013 on the first leg of his Asian tour

US Vice President Joe Biden will meet Japanese leaders Tuesday, with Tokyo hoping for some fulsome backing in its vicious territorial spat with China.

Biden arrived in Tokyo late Monday on the first leg of an Asian tour that will also take him to Beijing and to Seoul.

It comes as tensions in the region are at their highest for years, with China and Japan squaring off over a chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

"In Tokyo, the Vice President will reaffirm the enduring strength of the US-Japan alliance as a cornerstone of peace and stability in the region," the White House said in a statement.

Last month Beijing declared an Air Defence Identification Zone, or ADIZ, over the East China Sea, including the disputed chain, in which it warned all aircraft had to obey Chinese orders or face unspecified "defensive emergency measures".

The US, Japan and South Korea, angry at the declaration, have all sent military or paramilitary aircraft into the zone since.

In Washington, senior administration officials said Biden, who is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing later this week, plans to convey Washington's "concerns" to China and seek clarity regarding its intentions with the move.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be looking for Biden to bolster his position that China is being unreasonable and aggressive, said Takehiko Yamamoto, professor of international politics at Waseda University in Tokyo.

"But at the same time, Washington does not want to take the risk of damaging its bilateral ties with China," he said.

"Biden will deliver the message to the Chinese side but may also seek to play a role in mediating," he added.

Analysts point out that Tokyo and Washington appear at odds over instructions to their airline flying over the zone, with Tokyo telling its firms they should not comply and the US advising American companies that they should.

As well as meetings with Abe and vice premier Taro Aso, Biden will sit down with Crown Prince Naruhito.

He will move to Beijing on Wednesday to hold talks with Xi before flying to Seoul, where he is to meet South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.

President Barack Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, pledged in his first term to "pivot" US foreign policy toward Asia.

But he called off a trip to the region in October to negotiate with Republicans who shut down the US government in a failed bid to stop his signature health care reform.

Biden's visit is intended to help re-affirm US committment to the region, ahead of an intended trip to Asia by Obama in April.

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