WASHINGTON - The United States is reluctant to mention the islets at the center of a dispute between Japan and China in the statement to be released after next week’s summit, a person familiar with Tokyo-Washington ties said Wednesday.
The government proposed releasing a leaders’ statement that says the United States must defend the Japan-administered Senkaku islets in the East China Sea, which are claimed by China and Taiwan, the source said.
The U.S. administration of President Barack Obama has said the Senkakus are covered by the 1960 bilateral security treaty with Japan, which obliges the United States to defend Japanese territory that comes under attack.
The U.S. government had no objection to stipulating that position without referring to the islets by name in the joint statement to be issued after talks between Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the source said.
But the U.S. government was unwilling to specifically mention the Senkakus in the statement, apparently because it did not want to unnecessarily irritate Beijing, the source said.
The United States has reacted strongly to moves by China that can destabilize East Asia and Southeast Asia, such as its unilateral establishment last year of air defense identification zone over the East China Sea.
But Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are also seeking “a new model” for relations between the world’s two largest economies, including enhancing military exchanges.
The Japanese government has already drafted the Abe-Obama statement, and both governments are thrashing out the language in it ahead of the summit talks on April 24 in Tokyo, the source said.
After essentially nationalizing the chain to keep them out of the hands of Tokyo’s nationalist former governor, Shintaro Ishihara, by outbidding him, Japan says the group of uninhabited islets is an integral part of Japanese territory. China has responded by regularly sending government ships and planes near or into Japanese territory around the Senkakus to promote its claim to them.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan in Beijing earlier this month that the U.S. military is committed to the defense of Japan, including the Senkakus.