Invokes Article 5 of defense treaty in message to China (Updated)
President Obama on Tuesday invoked U.S. military defense guarantees for Japan’s disputed East China Sea islands that have been the target of coordinated Chinese military provocations since 2012.
During a Rose Garden press conference with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama repeated a promise to defend the Senkaku Islands, a statement that is likely to anger China, which claims the uninhabited islands as its own, calling them the Diaoyu Islands.
“I want to reiterate that our treaty commitment to Japan’s security is absolute, and that Article 5 covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including Senkaku Islands,” Obama said in a carefully crafted statement.
Additionally, Obama noted growing concern over China’s South China Sea assertiveness. Beijing has claimed some 90 percent of the sea as its maritime domain, putting it in conflict with Vietnam, the Philippines, and other regional states.
“We share a concern about China’s land reclamation and construction activities in the South China Sea, and the United States and Japan are united in our commitment to freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes without coercion,” he said.
The treaty article mentioned by the president is part of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. It states that an armed attack on either country would prompt action “to meet the common danger.” Other lower-level U.S. officials have made the commitment in the past. But it was the second time in two years that Obama mentioned the military commitment, giving it more political weight.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhu Haiquan said the Diaoyu island and its affiliated islands “are China’s inherent territory.”
“No matter what others say or do, the fact that the Diaoyu islands belong to China cannot be changed, and the determination and will of the Chinese government and people to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity will not be shaken,” he said.
The president’s statement follows a similar commitment he made a year ago during his visit to Japan and further signals to the Chinese that the United States, while stating it is neutral in territorial disputes, affirmed that U.S. defenses could be used to assist Japan in any Chinese attempt to seize the islands by force.
John Tkacik, a former China specialist with the State Department, said Obama’s statement was significant. The Senkakus have been a central concern of the U.S.-Japan alliance since the islands were handed over to Japan by the United States in 1972, he said.
“Tokyo rightly considers the islands a touchstone of the alliance’s durability,” Tkacik said.
“The tenor of President Obama’s reaffirmation of U.S. commitment to the alliance, and specifically the Senkakus, was at least as firm as past presidents, and actually may even be more explicit than any other president personally has given,” he added.
Full article: Obama Says U.S. Will Defend Japan’s Senkakus (Washington Free Beacon)