U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Beijing on Wednesday amid rising regional tensions over the declaration of a Chinese air defense zone over a disputed island chain in the East China Sea, after its historic rival Japan bought some of the islands from their private owners in September 2012. But Hong Kong-based military affairs analyst Ma Dingsheng told RFA's Mandarin Service in a recent interview that neither China nor its neighbors has any interest in military conflict in the East China Sea.
Q: What do you see as the U.S. attitude to the air defense zone?
A: It's very clear. Firstly, they are the stronger party, so they immediately sent B-52s there. Secondly, they're not the ones who are worried. They are a long way from China. The ones who are primarily the most worried are Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
On the surface, their attitude is, "Why change things? China never had an air defense zone before, and now that they have one, it is making everyone uneasy, so it's best if they don't do this sort of thing. If they do go ahead with it, then we will support Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan."
Q: What sort of strategy do you see Japan adopting?
A: Japan won't recognize the zone, and its aircraft will do what they have to do. But what [is China] going to do about it? Shoot them down?
Q: How will this situation affect Taiwan?
A: It's different for Taiwan. It has a different relationship with mainland China than the U.S. and Japan do. Most Taiwanese think—and [Taiwan president] Ma Ying-jeou has said this—that the relationship with China isn't an international issue.
That's why it hasn't got involved in the East China Sea disputes. This is actually quite strange, because the Taiwan Strait is in the East China Sea, but it hasn't got involved.
Maybe [Beijing] doesn't want Taiwan involved, because militarily it's of a piece with the U.S. military [in the region]. The U.S. would definitely want to get involved in the issue of Taiwan.
Taiwan is getting more and more nervous about whether to become involved in the East China Sea, as the mainland's military gets stronger and stronger.
Q: Why do you think Beijing set up the air defense zone?
A: There are two reasons. One is that the military is growing in power now, including the navy and the air force.
The second is the issue of the Diaoyu [Senkaku] islands being sold [to the Japanese government] and becoming state property, and all those issues.
Militarily, they are looking for a legal basis to come and go around the [Diaoyu/Senkaku] island chain.
Q: How do you see China's military expansionism affecting its neighbors?
A: China will expand with or without this air defense zone. Its ships and planes have been around the island chains for some time, and now they frequently venture beyond them.
I'm sure there will be resistance [to China's influence], and clashes will be hard to avoid. But there won't be a war, because nobody wants it, and war won't solve the problem anyway.
I think that, basically, China and its immediate neighbors will manage to deal with each other peacefully.
Reported by Jiang Pei for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie.