President Barack Obama said in no unclear terms yesterday that a China’s attempt to repatriate the Japanese Senkaku Islands would trigger a military dispute between China and the United States. Speaking to Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, President Obama reiterated that the Senkaku Islands are covered by treaty.
“The policy of the United States is clear–the Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security,” President Obama replied to written questions from the newspaper. He added that the United States wholeheartedly opposes “any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands.”
The President also encouraged the Japanese government to reconsider its constitutional limits on self-defense, imposed on the nation after World War II and a sore spot for both right-of-center Japanese officials and the communist Chinese government. President Obama “enthusiastically welcomed Japan’s desire to play a greater role in upholding international security… including by reviewing existing limits on the exercise of collective self-defense.”
The President’s statement on the Senkaku Islands comes after a recent attempt by the Chinese government to repatriate them through the imposition of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the islands in November. The ADIZ would require Japanese ships and aircraft flying over the islands to identify themselves to the Chinese military, as well as any other vessels that may enter the zone of the islands. The Japanese government loudly objected, noting that they did not have to identify themselves to any foreign government on their sovereign territory.
The United States did not respond strongly to the ADIZ, merely watching from afar, and the Chinese continue to impose it without incident to this day. Months later, the Chinese government seized a Japanese ship and tried to block a Filipino vessel from traveling in open water.
This latest visit by President Obama has the Chinese government and media alarmed, however. The South China Morning Post reports that Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang replied to the comments with a “call on the United States to respect its promises of not taking sides in territorial disputes.” A column in Xinhua that preceded the statements on the Senkaku Islands declares Japan “embarrassing” and “a liability” to President Obama, given its apparent interest in remilitarizing. “A right-tilting Japan, with Abe at the helm, has been busy with whitewashing its wartime aggression against its neighbors, raising severe concerns in China and South Korea. Meanwhile, Tokyo has also been engaged in intense territorial disputes with Beijing and Seoul,” Huang Yinjiazi writes.
As President Obama notes, a kinetic action between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands would necessarily result in American military having to come to the aid of the Japanese to protect those islands by treaty.