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(CNN) - Vice President Joe Biden is in China, meeting with President Xi Jinping for more than five hours between meetings and dinner. According to senior administration officials, Biden told the Chinese leader that the U.S. does not recognize its newly declared air-defense zone over the East China Sea, but appeared to make no immediate progress on the issue.
The U.S. advised airlines to 'comply' with China's request on the disputed zone, but some say that is the wrong message to send and conveys weakness.
"The administration started out by doing the right thing. They sent a couple B52s on a freedom of navigation mission which is exactly what we should be doing in the aftermath of this kind of announcement," said former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.
"There was a miscue in terms of how we handle commercial aviation, because it was at odds with what Japan then was doing," said Huntsman.
Before landing in China, Biden visited Japan, where he said he is "deeply concerned" with recent events.
"The language used, I think, was appropriate given the circumstances. Now it will play out in Beijing," said Huntsman.
The administration is focused on getting Japan and China talking, building confidence and greater trust between regional players, and coming up with a protocol for diffusing tension, says Huntsman.
"It's difficult, and the only way to make it better is by the United States having the conversation with China that no one else can have," said Huntsman.
Biden and Xi developed a relationship when they were both vice presidents together, before Xi became president of China.
"It's actually quite unusual for the head of China to accord this amount of time to the Vice President of the United States," said Huntsman. "So all of that is presumably taking us all in a direction that defines some parameters around the drama that's playing out in the East China Sea."