BEIJING - In candid, face-to-face talks, Vice President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping traded arguments Wednesday over China's contentious new air-defense zone, with no consensus about how to defuse an issue that's raising anxieties across Asia and beyond.
The United States will now wait to see whether China, despite international pressure, will enforce the zone - a strip of airspace more than 600 miles long above disputed islands in the East China Sea.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called China's announcement of the zone "destabilizing" and complained that it had come "so unilaterally and so immediately without any consultation."
"That's not a wise course of action to take for any country," Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference.
In Beijing, Wednesday's outcome was not what Biden may have hoped for.
A day earlier, he had stood shoulder to shoulder in Tokyo with the leader of China's rival Japan, pledging to raise Washington's deep concerns with Xi directly in hopes of tamping down tensions in a strategically critical region.
U.S. officials worry that China's demand that pilots entering the airspace file flight plans with Beijing could lead to an accident or a confrontation spiraling dangerously out of control.
Neither Biden nor Xi mentioned the dispute as they appeared briefly before reporters at the end of their first round of talks. But in private, the issue came up at length at the beginning and again near the end of the long-planned meeting, senior Obama administration officials said. In all, Biden and Xi met for more than five hours.
The typically upbeat Biden appeared subdued as he reflected on the complexity of the relationship between China and the United States, two world powers seeking closer ties despite wide ideological gulfs they have as of yet been unable to bridge.
"This new model of major-country cooperation ultimately has to be based on trust, and a positive notion about the motive of one another," Biden said, flanked by top advisers in a resplendent meeting room steps away from Tiananmen Square.
The calibrated public comments played down the deep strains permeating the relationship between the world's two largest economies.
As Biden arrived in Beijing, an editorial in the state-run China Daily charged Washington with "turning a blind eye to Tokyo's provocations," warning that Biden would hit a dead end should he come "simply to repeat his government's previous erroneous and one-sided remarks."
Biden, meanwhile, told Chinese youngsters waiting to get visitor visas processed at the U.S. Embassy that American children are rewarded rather than punished for challenging the status quo, an implicit criticism of the Chinese government's authoritarian rule.