U.S. President Barack Obama told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he understands China has raised tensions over the Senkaku Islands during their summit talks in Washington last month, sources close to the bilateral relationship said.
In the inaugural meeting of the two leaders Feb. 22, Obama twice referred to the Japan-controlled islets as “Senkaku” rather than Diaoyu, as they are claimed by China, the sources said Saturday.
Obama also voiced his appreciation for Tokyo’s calm response to Beijing’s increasingly provocative actions, including repeated incursions by Chinese vessels into Japanese territorial waters around the disputed islet cluster in the East China Sea, showing understanding toward Japan’s stance on the issue, the sources said.
Tokyo and Washington have refrained from releasing Obama’s remarks so as not to further provoke Beijing, according to the sources.
Meanwhile, Abe told Obama at their summit that Japan intends to protect and defend the Senkakus unilaterally, but that his government will avoid escalating already fraught bilateral ties with China by continuing to respond calmly to any future provocations, the sources said.
The clash over the uninhabited but potentially resource-rich Senkakus, which dates back to the 1970s, was spectacularly reignited by Japan’s purchase of three of the group’s main islets last September from their private owner in Saitama Prefecture, effectively nationalizing the entire chain.
In a worrying escalation, Japan in January alleged that Chinese navy frigates had locked their weapons-guiding radar on a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer and helicopter in the vicinity of the islets in two separate incidents. Although the United States has accepted Japan’s account of the events, China continues to deny they took place.
At his summit with Abe, Obama also touched on the ongoing sovereignty rows between China and the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, underscoring the importance of the rule of law in resolving such disputes and stressing that Beijing must follow international regulations, the sources said.
According to a separate source, the two leaders also exchanged views on Iran’s nuclear program. Obama called for enhanced bilateral cooperation in dealing with Tehran’s suspected drive to develop nuclear weapons, while Abe said Japan will use its positive relations with Iran to urge its leaders to accept inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the source said.