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.