Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Wednesday in Tokyo that China is testing Japan over the “chill” in its ties with the U.S. by creating mischief in the East China Sea, particularly last week’s collisions between a Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard vessels.

“My view is what China senses is a distracted United States who has a chilled relationship with Tokyo,” Armitage said. “So they are testing what they can get away with.”

During a speech at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Armitage warned China that the U.S. military, based on the Japan-U.S. security treaty, would be obligated to take action if China begins engaging in more serious activities around the Senkaku islets.

“We don’t take a position on the ultimate ownership of the Senkakus, but because of our defense treaty with Japan the administrative territories under the administration of Japan are involved in our defense treaty,” Armitage said. “And I think and hope that China will take that into full consideration.”

Japan-U.S. ties have become strained in the past year over the contentious relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa. Armitage said relations have become stagnant between the two countries and pointed out there are numerous other key issues that need to be addressed.

“For a year, Futenma has sucked the oxygen out of every room in which the word is uttered,” Armitage said. “It has gotten in the way of much more important issues (between) the United States and Japan. It has prevented other discussions of a more meaningful nature.”

Having served under U.S. President George Bush from 2001 to 2005, Armitage said it was a mistake for the Bush administration to remove North Korea from its terrorist blacklist in 2008.

“I would never have removed North Korea from the terrorist list until there was more transparency on the question of (Japanese) abductees,” Armitage said. “I personally think we were rewarding North Korea for bad behavior.”

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