U.S. fudges Senkaku security pact status

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The Obama administration has decided not to state explicitly that the Senkaku Islands, which are under Japan’s control but claimed by China, are subject to the Japan-U.S. security treaty, in a shift from the position of George W. Bush, sources said Monday.

Although the U.S. government has not officially changed its stance that the Japan-U.S. pact applies to the uninhabited East China Sea islets, known in China as the Diaoyu isles, the shift from making a direct reference to them could become a source of concern for Tokyo as it addresses moves by Beijing, the sources said. Taiwan also claims the islets.

The administration of Barack Obama has already notified Japan of the change in policy, but Tokyo may have to take countermeasures in light of China’s increasing activities in the East China Sea, according to the sources.

Japan’s concern over the uninhabited islands was heightened when a Chinese oceanographic research vessel entered what it claims as its territorial waters near the islands in December 2008, shortly before Obama took office.

The Obama administration, however, decided from the start not to state explicitly that the bilateral security pact applies to the islets, the sources said.

Washington is believed to have shifted its position to avoid irritating Beijing amid efforts to ensure continued cooperation with China to keep the U.S. economy’s recovery on track from the financial crisis, the sources said.

In March 2004, then State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters, “The Senkaku Islands have been under the administrative control of the government of Japan since having been returned as part of the reversion of Okinawa in 1972.”

The spokesman added, “Article 5 of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security states that the treaty applies to the territories under the administration of Japan; thus Article 5 of the Mutual Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands.”

When Tokyo sought confirmation of the U.S. position in March 2009, the Obama administration said the islands have been under Japanese administrative control since the 1972 reversion and the Japan-U.S. security pact applies to territories under Japanese administration, but it did not directly state that the Senkakus are subject to the pact, the sources said.

Then Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura announced at the time that the U.S. position on the matter remained unchanged.

In response to a recent inquiry, the State Department also said the U.S. position on the issue “is long-standing and has not changed.”

The islets lie on Japan’s side of the median line that Tokyo recognizes as demarcating the nation’s territorial waters. China has been drilling for gas just on its side of the line, but Japan believes the deposits being tapped extend into its territory.