WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has sent a clear warning to Beijing, which lays claim to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, saying Washington opposes any unilateral action that would weaken Japan’s control of the chain.
In a joint new conference Friday after meeting with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the State Department, Clinton also said the United States has invited Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Washington for talks with President Barack Obama in the third week of February.
The new Liberal Democratic Party administration had sought to arrange a bilateral summit with Obama in January but gave up on the idea, in part due to the president’s tight schedule because of inaugural events for his second term.
“Although the U.S. does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the (Senkaku) islands, we acknowledge they are under the administration of Japan,” Clinton said, repeating Washington is obligated under the bilateral security treaty to defend the islet group if it comes under armed attack. “We oppose any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration (of the Senkakus).”
It is the first time Clinton has clearly stated Washington’s opposition to altering the status quo regarding the isles, whose sovereignty is contested by both China and Taiwan. Japan purchased three of the main islets in September, effectively nationalizing the chain and enraging China.
The strong message from Washington came as Chinese planes and vessels continue to violate Japan’s airspace and waters around the uninhabited islets.
Speaking to reporters in Washington later in the day, Kishida praised Clinton’s remarks, saying, “I believe such a U.S. response will contribute to stability in the region and help reduce tensions.”
Her comments, however, could draw fire from China, which suspects the United States is not taking a neutral stance on the issue.
Clinton also urged Tokyo and Beijing to resolve the dispute through dialogue, saying, “We urge all parties to take steps to prevent incidents and manage disagreement through peaceful means.”
The deterioration of the relationship between Asia’s two largest economies is a headache for the Obama administration, which wants to deepen cooperation with both countries.
While trying to address the issue calmly, Kishida reiterated that the Senkakus are an integral part of Japan’s territory and that the government will not compromise on its long-standing position that no dispute exists over their sovereignty.
On North Korea’s satellite launch in December, which was viewed by many countries as a covert ballistic missile test, Kishida and Clinton shared the importance of seeking strong action from the U.N. Security Council.
During their first face-to-face meeting, the two also agreed to work closely on the ongoing hostage crisis in Algeria, with Clinton stressing the need to bolster counterterrorism cooperation around the world. Kishida assured Clinton that Japan will not tolerate terrorism and said the LDP-led government is urging Algerian authorities to make the hostages’ safety its top priority.
On bilateral issues, Clinton and Kishida agreed to deepen the security alliance, while reconfirming their commitment to implementing the current relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa Island. Kishida said the base should not be left as is, and that it is important to heed the complaints of Okinawa residents while maintaining the deterrence provided by the base.
The bilateral ministerial meeting is “a good start toward deepening the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Kishida told reporters afterward.
U.S. officials and pundits are concerned by Tokyo’s possible plan to review the 1993 Kono statement, which clearly acknowledges the Imperial Japanese Army’s involvement in forcing Korean and other Asian women into sexual servitude and offers an apology to the victims. But the issue did not come up during the meeting, Japanese officials said.
Clinton also voiced hope that Japan will soon join the Hague Convention aimed at preventing and settling international child custody disputes, saying, “We hope that there will be action in the upcoming session of the Diet to pass the necessary legislation.”
On the economic front, Kishida and Clinton discussed Japan’s potential participation in the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks. Ahead of the meeting, Kishida also met with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and explained the LDP government’s stance on the TPP, including its pledge that Japan will not join the multilateral pact if the elimination of all tariffs is a precondition.
But the foreign minister declined to reveal Kirk’s response.
No meeting was arranged between Kishida and Sen. John Kerry, whom Obama has nominated to succeed Clinton as state secretary, during his stay in the capital.
At the news conference, Clinton stressed the importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship, noting she chose Tokyo as the destination for her first official overseas trip as a secretary of state four years ago. “So as my time as secretary of state comes to an end, I want to thank the people and leaders of Japan for their partnership and commitment to this alliance,” she said.