Obama Says US-Japan Security Treaty Covers Disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

By Reuters

The disputed islands Uotsuri island (top), Minamikojima (bottom) and Kitakojima, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea REUTERS/Kyodo

The disputed islands Uotsuri island (top), Minamikojima (bottom) and Kitakojima, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea REUTERS/Kyodo

TOKYO (Reuters) — U.S. President Barack Obama has assured Japan that tiny islands in the East China Sea at the heart of a territorial row with China are covered by a bilateral security treaty that obligates America to come to Japan’s defense.

Obama gave the assurance in remarks published by the Yomiuri newspaper on Wednesday, hours before he was due to arrive in Tokyo for a visit aimed at reaffirming strong U.S.-Japan ties in the face of rising tensions over China and North Korea.

“The policy of the United States is clear — the Senkaku islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of … the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security,” Obama said, referring to the disputed islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

“And we oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands,” he said.

Obama’s visit to Japan is the first stop on a four-nation Asia tour. He will seek to assure key allies such as Japan and South Korea that their alliance is as strong as ever, while trying not to damage ties with an increasingly powerful China.

In written replies to questions from the Yomiuri, Obama said he had told Chinese President Xi Jinping that all nations had an interest in the peaceful resolution of East China Sea disputes.

Japanese and Chinese naval vessels and coastguard ships have played cat and mouse around the disputed islets since Japan’s government purchased the formerly privately owned territory in 2012.

Japanese fighter jets scrambled against Chinese planes a record 415 times in the year through to March, up 36 percent from the previous year, Japan’s Defense Ministry said recently.

Obama said any disputes should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, not intimidation and coercion, and also commended Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to strengthen Japan’s military and deepen coordination with U.S. forces.

In a sign of the delicate balancing act that Washington now faces in Asia, he said he believes the United States and China can work together on issues of mutual interest, such as a strong global economy and the denuclearization of North Korea.

“In other words, we welcome the continuing rise of a China that is stable, prosperous and peaceful and plays a responsible role in global affairs,” he said.

“And our engagement with China does not and will not come at the expense of Japan or any other ally.”

Obama reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to the security of Japan and South Korea, and said it would stand firm in its insistence that a nuclear North Korea was unacceptable.

“The burden is on Pyongyang to take concrete steps to abide by its commitments and obligations, and the United States, Japan and South Korea are united in our goal – the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” he said.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Mark Bendeich)


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U.S. Officials Back Abe’s Military Push

By Julian E. Barnes and Colleen McCain Nelson
The Wall Street Journal

The U.S. on Monday endorsed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s effort to expand the role of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, saying it would help the U.S.-Japan alliance keep the peace in the Asia-Pacific region.

The statements came ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan from Wednesday to Friday.

Mr. Abe has expressed a desire to reinterpret Japan’s constitution and permit the country to exercise its right of “collective self-defense,” meaning Japan could assist allies in a conflict even if it wasn’t directly attacked.

In Washington, Pentagon officials have encouraged such efforts, arguing that Tokyo needs to do more to balance China’s investment in its armed forces.

“The Department of Defense welcomes Japan’s re-examination of their interpretation of its constitution relating to the right of collective self-defense,” Marine Lt. Col. Jeff Pool, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday. “We believe it would allow the U.S. and Japan to do more together to continue to advance prosperity and security in the region.”

On his trip, Mr. Obama is unlikely to use the term “collective self-defense,” but he should recognize Mr. Abe’s effort, said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“If he completely ignores what Abe-san is trying to do for defense reform, if he completely ignores the East China Sea issue and says nothing, that would be a failure,” Mr. Green said.

The White House on Monday endorsed Japan’s military re-evaluation.

“Japan plays an important role in encouraging and bringing about peace and security in the Asia- Pacific and globally, and we encourage and support all efforts for Japan to do that,” said Evan Medeiros, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council.

“Regarding the issue of collective self-defense, we support Japan’s re-examination of the legal basis of collective self-defense insofar as we believe that that supports efforts to enhance interoperability in our alliance and also for our alliance to be more capable at contributing to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific.”


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China Says Abe’s Military Plans Will Increase Tensions

By Lilian Lin
The Wall Street Journal

We reported earlier that the U.S. is welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for a greater military role in advance of President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan. For a different view, we turn to China, where state media have routinely cast Mr. Abe’s push to change Japan’s constitution as an effort to return to a militarist past.

“In service of Japan’s so-called ‘greatness,’ Abe is going out of his way to be reckless and publicly worshipping ghosts on the one hand, while on the other hand he shamelessly tries to distract the international community with vain babble about ‘positive pacifism,’” the Communist Party flagship newspaper People’s Daily said in a commentary in February.

The commentary referred to the consequences of “appeasement” before World War II and said that “allowing Abe to continue along the right-wing road would create added challenges to peace and prosperity in Asia.”

Mr. Abe has advocated changing Japan’s constitution to allow for a greater defense role. While that would likely take years, his administration is also looking to change the interpretation of the existing constitution this year to allow Japan to exercise its right of “collective self-defense,” meaning it could come to the aid of allies even if it wasn’t directly attacked.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

The increasing militarization of Japan is an inevitable process being encouraged by U.S. support, said Shi Yinhong, an international relations scholar at Renmin University in Beijing. “What matters is the U.S. attitude. The Americans have welcomed this [change], which will increase tensions in East Asia,” he said.

Insufficient communication between Beijing and Tokyo was also making matters worse, he said, adding that a change to Japan’s constitution could significantly alter the preparation and deployment of China’s military in the East China Sea.


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