Ex-Ambassador Schieffer highlights dangers of Senkaku ‘tinderbox’ tensions

Kyodo

Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer is warning of the dangers of escalating the tension between Tokyo and Beijing over the Senkaku Islands.

Speaking at a symposium Wednesday in Tokyo, Schieffer said territorial issues in Asia, including the Senkaku dispute, could be “tinderboxes that can be lit quickly.”

“What we don’t want to have is a situation in which emotion drives people toward a disastrous result,” he said. “When there is calm (due to a healthy U.S.-Japan alliance), people can then talk about how they are going to resolve things in a peaceful manner.”

After a “rough patch” during the previous administration of the Democratic Party of Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party returned to power last December, has achieved political stability and is trying to balance out “disproportionate” responsibilities in the security alliance with the U.S., he said.

“The United States must come to the aid of Japan in the case of conflict. Japan does not have to come to the aid of the United States. We understand that’s what the treaty obligation is. But the world has changed,” Schieffer said.

To enable Japan to take on a greater security role in the world, Abe is aiming to lift the self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense — aiding an ally under attack — and bolster defense capabilities to cope with threats posed by an assertive China and North Korea’s nuclear arms and missiles.

Former Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki took a similar view at the symposium, saying Washington’s repeated statements that the Senkakus are covered by the bilateral security treaty have been “the biggest deterrence.”

Relations between Tokyo and Beijing have been icy since the central government essentially nationalized the small group of islets in the East China Sea, with China constantly sending patrol ships and airplanes into the area.

“Is it really transparency that we want? Is it not the size or the volume that is bothering us?” Fujisaki said of China’s increase in defense spending. “We need to ask this question (to seek clarity).”