The US has decided not to send a warship to a naval ceremony in China after learning Japan was not invited, a defense official said on Thursday.
The international fleet review is being held to mark the 65th anniversary of the Chinese navy and Washington had intended to take part in the event off the eastern coastal city of Qingdao later this month.
“Japan was not invited. So in solidarity, we decided not to participate,” said the senior US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
However, US Navy Chief Admiral Jonathan Greenert and US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry Harris will still attend a symposium in Qingdao that coincides with the flotilla ceremony, the official said.
The sail-off of warships was “not a drill” or exercise and Washington’s move did not signal a major rupture with China, the official said.
The Pentagon informed the Chinese of its decision about 10 days ago, the official said.
Japan appears to have been invited to the naval symposium, which involves top naval officers from more than 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
The row over the ceremony comes amid tensions between Japan and China over disputed islands in the East China Sea administered by Japan. Known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, Taiwan also claims the islands and calls them the Diaoyutais (釣魚台).
Chinese government ships and planes have been seen off the disputed islands numerous times since Japan nationalized them in September 2012, sometimes within the 12 nautical-mile (22.2km) territorial zone.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who has called for restraint, will take up the issue when he visits Japan this weekend and China next week.
Hagel on Thursday wrapped up more than two days of talks with ASEAN defense ministers in Hawaii, where discussions touched on territorial disputes involving China and joint humanitarian aid operations.