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Biden's Visit Won't End China's Feud With Japan

Stocks in this article: UAL DAL

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- So far the only concrete good to come from China's expansion of its sovereign air space is a tweeted photo of Vice President Joe Biden's plane, Air Force Two, flying past Mount Fuji.

And nothing much more substantial is really expected. A quick scan of the issue suggests that the current sharp disagreement with Japan over air space and territory is built from decades of unresolved doubts on both sides and is likely to linger for even longer.

At issue are islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku by the Japanese and Daioyu by the Chinese. China's newly defined air space extends over those islands and overlaps space claimed by Japan. China's move isn't an isolated incident given that the world's second-largest economy has in recent years been beefing-up its military and expanding its armed presence throughout Asia.

Both sides claim the islands are their indisputable territory. That alone is telling since China and Japan have been in dispute over this indisputable territory at least since the 1970s when China began to contest Japan's claim to the islands. According to Japan, the islands were annexed in 1895 and reaffirmed by international treaty following World War II. According to China's state-run news agency, Xinhua, the tensions escalated in September 2012 when Tokyo nationalized the Diaoyu islands, illegally in China's eyes, by purchasing them from a private owner.

Although initially scheduled to discuss trade issues, Biden's visit to the Far East is now centered on trying to calm the waters ruffled by China's move. In Tokyo on Tuesday, Biden said, "This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation."

The U.S. initially opposed China's move but Biden hasn't called for a rollback. Instead, in remarks from Tuesday in Tokyo and Wednesday in China, he only said that the U.S. has "deep concerns" about the expansion.

On Friday, the U.S. informed international commercial carriers that they should comply with China's request for notification of flight plans through the expanded airspace. United (UAL)American (AAMRQ.PK) and Delta (DAL) have said they have notified Chinese authorities. Japanese airlines, meanwhile, have ignored China's request.

With the U.S. seemingly willing to negotiate an agreement and U.S. carriers complying with China's requests, China has little reason to back down. With China's growing military encroaching more and more on Japan's home turf and a longstanding claim to the disputed territory at stake, Japan likewise has no motivation to yield.

In addition, international political crises often make great domestic politics. A contributor on Forbes points out that both sides will be using the dispute to galvanize support in for the current administration of the respective countries. If that's true, then Biden's visit is likely to produce no quick resolution as both sides milk the crisis for hometown political advantage.

Yet even if all that were not true and the sides were motivated to come to an agreement, given the long history of the territorial dispute, a quick end seems unlikely.

-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York

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