National / Politics

New U.S. defense chief to reaffirm security treaty covers Senkaku Islands

Kyodo

The Japanese and U.S. defense chiefs will reaffirm during a meeting this week that the bilateral security treaty covers defense of the disputed Senkaku Islands, according to government sources in both countries.

The small, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea are controlled by Japan but claimed by China.

With concern growing that Washington’s security commitments could falter under President Donald Trump, Japan and the U.S. will seek to underline the robustness of the security alliance by confirming that the Senkakus fall under Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. security treaty, amid China’s growing maritime assertiveness in the region, the sources said Sunday.

The islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan, have long been a major source of friction between Japan and China. China and Taiwan call them Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.

New U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis will meet in Tokyo with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday and with Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on Saturday.

Abe is also set to meet with Trump in Washington on Feb. 10, their first meeting since Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20. The two held unofficial talks in New York in November shortly after Trump was elected.

In 2014, Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to publicly state that the Senkaku Islands fall under the security treaty.

Mattis is likely to maintain the Obama administration’s stance on China’s military buildup in disputed waters of the South China Sea and to affirm the strengthening of cooperation on ballistic missile defenses to address North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, the sources said.

Last Wednesday, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defending Japan.

“We’ve made a commitment to Japan in terms of a guarantee of their defense,” Tillerson said during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Concern in Japan over ties with the United States has grown since Trump withdrew from the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, initiated by Obama and championed by Abe, and Trump’s accusation that Japanese trade practices in the automobile sector are “not fair” to U.S. companies.