In a sharp rebuff, China accused Washington on Wednesday of taking Japan's side in a tense clash over disputed islands in the East China Sea, underscoring rising regional friction as visiting Vice President Joe Biden met with Beijing's leaders.
Emerging from a private meeting with President Xi Jinping that went considerably longer than scheduled, Biden appeared somber and subdued. In a brief appearance before reporters in which he took no questions, Biden did not go into details on differences over China's newly declared restricted flying zone. Instead, he spoke of a ''new model of major country cooperation,'' saying US-China relations must hinge on trust and a positive notion of each other's motives.
The awkward kickoff for a series of official meetings in Beijing followed Biden's speech earlier Wednesday urging young Chinese citizens to challenge orthodoxy and the status quo. The vice president drew an implicit contrast between the authoritarian rule of China's government and the liberal, permissive intellectual culture he described in the United States.
Neither Biden nor Xi made public mention of the clash over disputed territory that has pitted China against the United States and its Asian allies.
An editorial in the state media China Daily charged, however, that Washington ''is turning a blind eye to Tokyo's provocations,'' calling that the ''root cause of the tensions.'' It said that ''the United States is wrongly pointing an accusing finger at China for `unilaterally' changing the `status quo' in the East China Sea.''
Biden told reporters after his initial talks with Xi that the relationship between the two major powers will significantly affect the course of the 21st century. If the U.S. and China can get that relationship right, the possibilities are limitless, he said to reporters who were allowed in briefly after the vice president met with Xi.
Biden said he came to Beijing because complex relationships require sustained engagement at high levels. He said Xi's candor and constructive approach had left an impression on him.
''Candor generates trust,'' Biden said. ''Trust is the basis on which real change - constructive change - is made.''
The two leaders had a second meeting involving larger delegations and a working dinner planned for later Wednesday.
Absent from Biden's public comments was any discussion of U.S. concerns over China's new air defense zone. Only a day earlier, Biden pledged to raise those concerns ''with great specificity'' with Xi and other Chinese leaders,