The United States rejected a proposal by Japan in March 1972 to have an American aircraft fly over the Senkaku Islands, whose sovereignty is at the heart of the current tensions with China, for fear it might be accused of being biased toward Japan, declassified U.S. archives showed Monday.
The proposal by a high-ranking Japanese official was made shortly before the reversion of Okinawa and the Senkakus to Japanese control from the United States on May 15, 1972.
The uninhabited islets in the East China Sea are still administrated by Japan. China claims them, and calls them Diaoyu, as does Taiwan, which calls them Tiaoyutai.
The U.S. government, Tokyo’s closest ally, maintains that Article 5 of the bilateral security treaty, under which Washington is required to defend Japan, applies to the Senkakus.
The U.S. refusal to fly over the Senkakus suggests that Washington was worried that its neutrality on the issue would be compromised and that it would become entangled in a territorial dispute involving Japan, China and Taiwan, political analysts say.
Based on documents including a secret cable on March 15, 1972, the Japanese government informed the United States that Kyoichi Noro, a senior official of the Defense Agency, the predecessor of the Defense Ministry, wanted an airplane to fly over the Senkakus and hinted at the possibility of using a U.S. aircraft.
A top-ranking U.S. official rejected this plan, saying it would be hard to fly over the islets without it becoming public knowledge and warned that such action could be problematic to both the Japanese and U.S. governments, the documents show.
The U.S. secretary of state, William Rogers, instructed relevant officials to tell Japan that Noro’s public justification of the “aerial inspection” over the Senkakus could lead to the worst possible scenario, according to the documents.
With U.S. concerns in mind, Tokyo informed Washington that Noro would postpone the flight plan indefinitely.