U.S. warns China to be careful on messing with Senkakus

America’s globe-hopping Secretary of State has put forth a clear warning to China it must be careful about taking any action in and around the Senkaku Islands in southwest Okinawa Prefecture that could be seen as influencing or weakening Japan’s control of the five uninhabited islets.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton minced no words in her warning that the U.S. opposes any unilateral action on the islands.  “Although the U.S. does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the Senkaku islands,” she said, “we do acknowledge that they are under the administration of Japan.”  She repeated the position that Washington is obligated under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty to defend the Senkaku Islands if they ever come under armed attack.

“We oppose any unilateral action that would seek to undermine Japanese administration of the islands.” It was Clinton’s first time to speak out on Washington’s position regarding altering the status quo on the islands, whose sovereignty is disputed both by Taiwan and China.  The furor became louder in September of last year when Japan bought three of the main islets, effectively nationalizing the chain.  Clinton’s warning came even as Chinese aircraft and ships are continuing to violate Japanese airspace and waters around the islands.

Clinton knows her comments could raise the ire of China on grounds the U.S. is not maintaining a neutral stance on the Senkaku issue, but she pressed forward anyway, urging Tokyo and Beijing to resolve the dispute through dialogue, saying “we urge all parties to take steps to prevent incidents and manage disagreement through peaceful means.  The deteriorating relationship between the two Asia giants has impacted the economies of both China and Japan, and become a headache for the Obama administration.

In a joint news conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the State Department in Washington, Clinton said the U.S. has invited Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Washington for meetings the third week of February with President Barack Obama.  As a part of that meeting, Kishida told Clinton the Senkakus are an integral part of Japan’s territory and not subject to any compromises.

Clinton and Kishida have taken steps to increase the security alliance between the U.S. and Japan, at the same time reconfirming their commitment to implementing the current relocation plan for Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to Henoko in Nago City.  Kishida told Clinton the base should not be left “as it is” and that it’s important the government listen to complaints of Okinawa residents while also maintaining the deterrence provided by Futenma.