Islands at the center of a territorial row between Japan and China are covered by a military protection accord between Washington and Tokyo, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Monday.
“The United States does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands, but we do recognize they are under the administration of Japan and fall under our security treaty obligations,” Hagel said at a news conference with his Japanese counterpart, Itsunori Onodera.
Hagel’s comments came amid rising tensions over the uninhabited islands known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands, as the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in Taiwan and as the Diaoyu Archipelago (釣魚群島) by China.
On April 23, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to “expel by force” any Chinese landing on the islands after a flotilla sailed into the disputed waters in the East China Sea.
The Chinese flotilla was the biggest to do so in a single day since Japan nationalized part of the island chain in September last year.
Calling the dispute a key regional security challenge, Hagel said it “must be resolved peacefully and cooperatively between the parties involved.”
Washington “opposes any unilateral or coercive action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administrative control,” he said, in reference to the recent Chinese actions.
“Any actions that could raise tensions or lead to miscalculations affect the stability of the entire region,” he said.
In the talks with Hagel, Onodera said he “explained Japan’s basic position that the islands are clearly an inherent part of the territory of Japan in light of historical facts and based upon international law, and that Japan is determined to protect its land, water and air.”
Turning to North Korea, Hagel said the country’s “provocative behavior” was “the most obvious threat to stability in the region.”
“Minister Onodera and I agree that continued close coordination between US and Japanese forces will be essential for monitoring and responding to any further provocations, particularly cooperation on missile defense,” he said.
Hagel said progress had been made on plans to deploy a second TPY-2 radar to Japan. He confirmed the deployment of a second squadron of MV-22 Osprey aircraft to Japan this summer.