Ahead of summit talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scheduled for later this week, the Trump administration is upping its efforts to reassure Japan of its security commitment to the county.
During a telephone conference Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida that Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. security treaty applies to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan, where they are known as the Diaoyus and Tiaoyutai, respectively.
The Senkaku remarks were the first time Tillerson had mentioned Article 5 since he was sworn in as top U.S. diplomat last week. Article 5 states that the U.S. and Japan will act together in the event Japanese administered territories are attacked. The former Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO had laid out a similar position during his confirmation hearings last month.
Tillerson’s comments — which came after a two-day visit by defense chief James Mattis to Tokyo — is yet another signal that Washington is attempting to reassure its key Asian ally that the Trump administration remains unwavering in its commitment to the region amid escalating security threats posed by Beijing and Pyongyang.
Mattis reconfirmed the stance that U.S. recognizes the Senkakus as administered by Japan and that it would not tolerate any actions to change the status quo by force during each of his meetings with Abe, Kishida, and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada.
Mattis and Inada also agreed that China’s growing military assertiveness in the South and East China seas pose grave threats to the region.
These moves come months after Trump’s comments raised question about his stance on the Japan-U.S. alliance. During his campaign, Trump repeatedly said that Japan must cough up more cash to continue to benefit from the extended defense provided by U.S. forces in Japan. Trump at one point even implied that allies like Japan and South Korea might develop their own nuclear arsenals, a move that experts said would likely spiral into an Asian arms race.
But much to the surprise of observers in Japan, Mattis lauded Japan’s host-nation support as an example for other nations during a news conference with Inada.
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