China Defies ‘Wrong’ US Guarantees to Japan by Sending Ships to Disputed Islands

A Chinese Coast Guard ship in waters near a chain of islands claimed by both China and Japan in the East China Sea. Photo: CNN/Japanese Coastguard

China has denounced the extension of US security guarantees to Japan to include a group of disputed East China Sea Islands, and has demonstrated its defiance by dispatching Coast Guard ships to the island zone.

China’s strong reaction came after on Saturday US Defense Secretary James Mattis reaffirmed in Tokyo America’s commitment to the US-Japan Alliance, and confirmed the guarantees included the Senkakus, a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea under Japanese control claimed by China which calls them Diaoyu.

“I made clear that our long-standing policy on the Senkaku Islands stands – the US will continue to recognize Japanese administration of the islands and as such Article 5 of the US-Japan Security Treaty applies,” Mattis declared in Tokyo during a trip to Japan and South Korea designed to reassure US allies in the Asia-Pacific in the support of President Donald Trump’s Administration.

A declaration to this end, i.e. that America agreed to cover the Senkakus under its security umbrella to Japan, was first made by the Administration of former US President Barack Obama back in 2014.

“Wrong Remarks”

China’s initial reaction was quick, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang in effect denouncing the US declaration as “wrong remarks”.

“We urge the U.S. side to take a responsible attitude, stop making wrong remarks on the issue involving the Diaoyu Islands sovereignty, and avoid making the issue more complicated and bringing instability to the regional situation,” said the spokesman, as cited by Chinese state-owned news agency Xinhua.

“The Diaoyu Island and its adjacent islets have been an inherent part of Chinese territory since ancient times, which is a unchangeable historical fact,” he added.

Lu argued that “the so-called” US-Japan treaty of mutual cooperation and defense was a product of the Cold War, “which should not impair China’s territorial sovereignty and legitimate rights”.

The Senkaku Islands are located west of Japan’s Okinawa Island, and northeast of Taiwan. As a result of their dispute, both Japan and China have had air defense identification zones over them since China began monitoring their zone in 2013.

The islands were under US administration from the end of World War II until their return to Japan in 1972. China cites historical records for its claim, and Japan’s nationalization of several of the islands in 2012 led to anti-Japanese riots in China.

In a scathing commentary on the dispute, the Chinese government-owned news agency Xinhua declared that America’s “meddling” in the island dispute between China and Japan was “doomed to be a bad deal for Washington”.

“The decaying US credibility in East Asia as well as the rising tensions in the region should make it clear to the new president, Donald Trump, that his predecessor’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy is a deal with no winners and meddling in the waters around the uninhabited islands for so-called “offshore balance” will never pay off,” Xinhua’s commentary said.

“For one thing, interfering in the Diaoyu Islands issue only provokes China, as Beijing has made it crystal clear that there will be no bargaining over its core interests,” it added.

In Defiance

Acting out to demonstrate its defiance of the US guarantees for Japan and the Senkakus, on Monday, China dispatched three Coast Guard vessels into the water around the islands that it calls Diaoyu, CNN reported.

Japan reacted to China’s demonstration in the East China Sea by filing protest notes with the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, and directly with the Chinese government through the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, Japanese TV station NHK reported.

According to Japan’s Coast Guard, the Chinese vessels spent two hours in Japanese territorial waters, i.e. the zone around the disputed islands.

It said that was the fourth time the Chinese Coast Guard sent ships to the Senkakus in 2017.

While such incidents are frequent, with a total of 36 occurring in 2016, it is believed that China dispatched coast guard vessels almost immediately after Mattis’s declarations in Tokyo precisely in order to defy the US security guarantee to Japan in the part where it covers the disputed East China Sea islands.

The one statement by US Defense Secretary James Mattis on his Japan trip which was officially welcomed by China was his announcement that the United States was not going to increase US military maneuvers in the South China Sea in spite of China’s building of island installations there.

“As for Mattis’ comment that there is no need for large-scale military operations in the area and the issue should be resolved through diplomacy, these remarks deserve our affirmation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu said on Monday.

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