The US Senate has unanimously approved an amendment that reaffirms the US commitment to Japan in its territorial dispute with China over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands (釣魚島) in China, and which Taiwan also claims, as Washington tries to counter any attempt by Beijing to challenge Japan’s administration of the archipelago.
The measure was attached on Thursday to the National Defense Authorization Bill for Fiscal Year 2013 still being debated in the Senate.
The amendment says that while the US “takes no position” on the ultimate sovereignty of the territory, it “acknowledges the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands.”
It further adds that “unilateral actions of a third party will not affect United States acknowledgement of the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands.”
The legislation reaffirms the US’ commitment to Japan under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security and warns that an armed attack against either party “in the territories under the administration of Japan” would be met in accordance with its provisions.
The amendment also noted US opposition to any efforts to coerce, threaten to use force, or use force to resolve territorial issues.
The Senate reiterated the US national interest in freedom of navigation, peace and stability, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce in the region.
“This amendment is a strong statement of support for a vital ally in Pacific Asia,” US Senator Jim Webb said in a statement.
It “unequivocally states that the United States acknowledges the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands, and that this position will not be changed through threats, coercion, or military action,” the Democratic senator added.
In Taiwan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Steve Hsia (夏季昌) yesterday said the ministry did not see any change in the US’ position on the dispute over the islands because the US has repeatedly said it takes no position on sovereignty of the region.
The statement by the US that the Diaoyutai Islands were covered by the US-Japan security treaty was mainly “out of concern over the needs to maintain regional security” and “was irrelevant to which country owns the sovereignty of the region,” Hsia said.
Hsia said the move by the US Senate was a repeat of the US position.
It is an undisputable fact that the Diaoyutai Islands are inherent territory of the Republic of China, Taiwan’s adjacent islets and traditional fishing grounds of the nation’s fishermen, Hsia said, adding that the passage of the bill in the US Senate can in no way change the facts.
The sovereignty of the islands has been a source of friction for decades, but the Japanese-Chinese row erupted earlier this year after the nationalist governor of Tokyo said he wanted to buy them for the city, forcing the Japanese government to buy three of the uninhabited islets.
Chinese vessels have been spotted in and around the territorial waters every day for the last month.
Both sides have publicly refused to back down on their respective claims to the Japan-controlled islands.
National pride as well as potential mineral reserves are at stake in the decades-old dispute, which has hit the huge trade relationship between the world’s second and third-largest economies.