TOKYO: An island chain at the center of a festering dispute between Japan and China is covered by an American military guarantee, Donald Trump’s new defense secretary said on Saturday.
Speaking in Tokyo at the tail end of a visit to East Asia, James Mattis said the Senkaku islands are subject to a long-standing defense treaty between Washington and Tokyo.
“I made clear that our long-standing policy on the Senkaku Islands stands—the US will continue to recognize Japanese administration of the islands,” Mattis said at a press conference after meeting his Japanese opposite number.
“And as such Article 5 of the US-Japan Security Treaty applies,” he said.
Article 5 commits the United States to defend Japan or territories it administers against any attack.
The long-standing US position is that this includes the Senkakus, which China claims as the Diaoyus.
Mattis’ comments mark a continuation of policy that was repeatedly stated under former President Barack Obama.
They will be welcomed in Japan, which has been discomfited by Trump’s islolationist rhetoric, including election campaign statements indicating he would be prepared to pull back from Washington’s close military ties with Tokyo.
Mattis was speaking after a meeting Japan’s hawkish Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on Saturday.
The Senkakus, which sit in rich fishing grounds, are a running sore in Tokyo’s relations with Beijing, which claims they have been part of Chinese territory for centuries.
The two countries have repeatedly clashed diplomatically over their ownership, and both sides regularly send ships to nearby waters to assert their claims.
China warns US
Mattis’ statement prompted China to issue a warning against the United States.
“The Diaoyu Island and its adjacent islets have been an inherent part of Chinese territory since ancient times, which is a unchangeable historical fact,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, according to the official news agency Xinhua.
“We urge the US side to take a responsible attitude, stop making wrong remarks… and avoid making the issue more complicated and bringing instability to the regional situation.”
Lu said the US-Japan treaty was a product of the Cold War, and should not affect China’s territorial sovereignty, Xinhua reported.