NEW YORK – The disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are covered by the Japan-U.S. security pact, meaning Washington could consider retaliation against a military strike on Japanese territory, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara on Thursday amid the rising tension between Tokyo and Beijing, Maehara said.
Maehara told Clinton that he was grateful and encouraged to hear the disputed isles, administered by Japan but claimed by both China and Taiwan, are subject to Article 5 of the bilateral security treaty, a Japanese official said.
The article authorizes the U.S. to protect Japan in the event of an armed attack “in the territories under the administration of Japan.”
Bilateral ties between Japan and China have chilled following the Sept. 7 collisions between a Chinese trawler and two Japan Coast Guard patrol boats near the disputed islands.
The Chinese fishing boat captain was arrested on suspicion of obstructing the official duties of the coast guard personnel by deliberately colliding with one of the boats, though prosecutors said Friday they would release him.
The arrest sparked protests from China, which called repeatedly for his immediate release, and led to cancellations of travel, concerts and other cultural and governmental exchanges between the two countries.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said after the talks that Clinton’s response to Maehara’s explanation on the issue was “simply to encourage dialogue and hope that the issue can be resolved soon since relations between Japan and China are vitally important to regional stability.”
Clinton and Maehara met in New York on the sidelines of U.N. General Assembly meetings. Their meeting was held prior to summit talks between Prime Minister Naoto Kan and President Barack Obama later in the day.
Crowley said Washington does “not take a position on the sovereignty of the Senkakus” but expects “the two mature countries are fully capable of resolving” the row.
“Our sense is neither side wants to see the situation escalate to the point that it has a long-term regional impact. We’re hopeful that this issue can be resolved soon,” he said.
The two also discussed a range of other issues, such as the relocation of the Futenma military base in Okinawa Prefecture, deepening of the bilateral security treaty, dealing with North Korea and Iran in relation to their nuclear programs, supporting Afghanistan and Pakistan, and bilateral trade matters.
Maehara said he told Clinton the government will implement an accord reached in May to transfer U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa and try to gain the understanding of local Okinawa residents.
The two also agreed to move forward talks on deepening the security treaty, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, with a view to responding to regional and global challenges, Maehara said.
Clinton and Maehara reaffirmed they will work closely to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Maehara told Clinton that Tokyo will closely follow next Tuesday’s convention of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea and is eager to hold strategic dialogue on the North with the United States, according to the Japanese official.
The convention of party delegates is expected to elect a new leadership, a move that may be linked to the succession of power from leader Kim Jong Il to his third son and heir apparent Kim Jong Un, believed to be in his late 20s.
Maehara, who served as transport minister before being appointed foreign minister last Friday, also said he conveyed to Clinton his eagerness to export Japan’s high-speed railway system to the United States to further boost bilateral economic ties.
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