US and Japanese officers are discussing worst-case contingency plans for retaking disputed islands in the East China Sea if China moves to seize them, US officials said on Wednesday.
The Nikkei Shimbun first reported the talks, which prompted a strong reaction from China.
“We have contingency plans and we discuss them with allies,” a US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, saying it was “natural” that the two governments would confer on emergency scenarios given recent tensions.
A Pentagon official, who also asked not to be quoted by name, confirmed the discussions, saying: “We’re a planning organization.”
However, both sources said the US government did not want to fuel tensions, and that the contingency planning would be only one of many topics on the agenda when top US and Japanese officers meet in Hawaii.
Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of US Pacific Command, is scheduled to host General Shigeru Iwasaki, chief of the Japanese Self Defense Forces Joint Staff, yesterday and today.
They were expected to agree that the allies will accelerate the drafting of the plans, Kyodo news agency said. They were likely review several scenarios, including one under which Japanese and US armed forces conduct joint operations in case China invades the islands, Kyodo said.
Officially, the Pentagon would neither confirm nor deny whether the contingency plans were under discussion.
“As a matter of policy, we do not discuss our military planning efforts,” Lieutenant Colonel Catherine Wilkinson said. “The US policy on the Senkaku Islands [known as the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in Taiwan and the Diaoyu Archipelago (釣魚群島) in China] is long-standing. We encourage the claimants to resolve the issue through peaceful means.”
The US has made clear that its alliance with Tokyo — the Japan-US Security Treaty — applies to the islands, raising the possibility of US military action in support of Japan if China moves to seize them.
The dispute has escalated in recent months, with Beijing repeatedly sending ships to waters around the islands to back up its claims. Tokyo has alleged that a Chinese frigate locked its radar on a Japanese destroyer in January.
In a faxed response to a query, China’s Ministry of National Defense said it had seen the Nikkei report and reiterated Beijing’s stance that the islands belong to China.
“The determination and will of Chinese military forces to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are steadfast,” the ministry said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is vowing to fight for a “great renaissance of the Chinese nation.” He has close ties to China’s expanding military, and called for the armed forces to strengthen their ability to “win battles.”
Japan too has expressed a new strain of nationalistic rhetoric under its hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has urged new graduates of the National Defense Academy to guard the country against “provocations.”
Additional reporting by Reuters