Is­lands vow ‘may back­fire’, ex­perts

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By ZHANG YUNBI zhangyunbi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s prom­ise of mil­i­tary cover for Ja­pan’s claim on the Diaoyu Is­lands faces the po­ten­tial of back­fir­ing, ob­servers said.

Obama stated in a press con­fer­ence in Tokyo on Thurs­day that the US-Ja­pan mu­tual se­cu­rity treaty cov­ers China’s Diaoyu Is­lands.

“We do not be­lieve that they should be sub­ject to change uni­lat­er­ally, and what is a con­sis­tent part of the al­liance is that the treaty cov­ers all ter­ri­to­ries ad­min­is­tered by Ja­pan.”

The forth­right re­marks from Obama are widely in­ter­preted as a dis­play of Wash­ing­ton’s strong com­mit­ment to its Asian al­lies de­signed to dis­pel sus­pi­cion of weak­en­ing US clout in the re­gion.

Obama is on a four-na­tion tour that was post­poned seven months ago be­cause of the US govern­ment shut­down. He faced flak at the time for post­pon­ing the trip, both in the US and over­seas, amid crit­i­cism that the US was pre­oc­cu­pied with do­mes­tic af­fairs at the ex­pense of its in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments.

Re­spond­ing to Obama’s com­ments, De­fense Min­istry spokesman Yang Yu­jun said that the Chi­nese army will con­tinue mil­i­tary pa­trols in “rel­e­vant wa­ters” in the East China Sea.

The Chi­nese mil­i­tary is “fully ca­pa­ble of safe­guard­ing the Diaoyu Is­lands, and it is un­nec­es­sary for other na­tions to go to ex­treme lengths to pro­vide a so-called se­cu­rity guar­an­tee,” Yang said, adding that China will firmly safe­guard ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty in the face of provo­ca­tion from Ja­pan.

Ruan Zongze, vice-pres­i­dent of the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, said Obama’s re­marks may lead to un­fore­seen prob­lems be­cause the mil­i­tary com­mit­ment — di­rectly nam­ing spe­cific is­lands — could “sab­o­tage US strate­gic ini­tia­tives in the re­gion” and un­der­mine its strate­gic flex­i­bil­ity.

“As a re­sult, Tokyo is keep­ing Wash­ing­ton in check in this re­gard, and, hon­estly, the rul­ing Ja­panese cab­i­net is very un­pre­dictable,” Ruan said.

Ruan noted that Obama’s re­marks about the is­lands “also harm the cred­i­bil­ity of the US”, be­cause in­stead of tak­ing an hon­est bro­ker’s view­point the US is firmly back­ing one side and this has the po­ten­tial to cause prob­lems.

With Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe be­side him, Obama told re­porters that he had not drawn any new “red line” over the is­lands, and he em­pha­sized the need to re­solve mar­itime dis­putes peace­fully.

“The treaty be­tween the US and Ja­pan pre­ceded my birth, so, ob­vi­ously, this isn’t a red line that I’m draw­ing,” Obama said. Li Haidong, a re­searcher of US stud­ies at China For­eign Af­fairs Univer­sity, said Obama’s visit to Ja­pan aimed to boost Ja­pan’s sta­tus as a “pil­lar” of Asi­aPa­cific se­cu­rity and as a key player in con­tain­ing China.

But, Li said, the two al­lies have dif­fer­ent agen­das.

“The US seeks sta­bil­ity in the big pic­ture of its re­la­tion­ship with China, yet Ja­pan is not afraid of fan­ning the flames of a con­flict with China,” Li said.

The US-Ja­pan de­fense treaty re­quires Wash­ing­ton to come to Ja­pan’s de­fense if it is at­tacked.

Ex­perts said Wash­ing­ton be­lieves that back­ing Tokyo will have long-term ben­e­fits.

Lyu Yaodong, an ex­pert on Ja­panese diplo­macy at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sci­ences, said Obama is “de­ter­mined to see tan­gi­ble progress in his re­bal­anc­ing strat­egy” dur­ing his Asian trip, and “to achieve this goal, sat­is­fy­ing de­mands from Ja­pan re­gard­ing the is­lands is nec­es­sary”.

Abe told re­porters on Thurs­day that “the Ja­pan-US al­liance is more ro­bust than ever be­fore.”

“The US pivot can­not suc­ceed with­out strong sup­port from im­por­tant al­lies such as Ja­pan,” Lyu said.

Ruan noted a shift in the US-Ja­pan mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship, and one ex­am­ple is that the US is “out­sourc­ing” more de­fense du­ties to Ja­pan.

“Wash­ing­ton be­lieves that its prom­ise on the is­lands is a fea­si­ble way to strengthen its in­flu­ence over Ja­pan, and ac­cord­ingly Wash­ing­ton wants Ja­pan’s self-de­fense forces to play a greater role, which is very dan­ger­ous,” Ruan said.

Yang, the De­fense Min­istry spokesman, also con­firmed what Chi­nese Navy Com­man­der Wu Shengli said on Wed­nes­day about a worst-case sce­nario.

Wu told re­porters on the side­lines of the Western Pa­cific Naval Sym­po­sium that the pos­si­bil­ity of a mil­i­tary con­flict re­mains be­tween China and Ja­pan, and the pri­or­ity is to “pre­vent the out­break of a con­flict”.

Yang also said the PLA will con­tinue mil­i­tary pa­trols in wa­ters near a trop­i­cal Ja­panese is­land close to Tai­wan, days af­ter Tokyo an­nounced it would break ground on a new radar base in the area.

The radar sta­tion on Yon­a­guni Is­land, just 150 km from the Diaoyu Is­lands, marks Ja­pan’s first mil­i­tary ex­pan­sion at the western end of its is­land chain in more than 40 years.

“We are pay­ing close at­ten­tion to Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary trends,” he said.

“China’s mil­i­tary will con­tinue to carry out bat­tle readi­ness pa­trols, mil­i­tary drills and other ac­tiv­i­ties in the area,” Yang said.

Barack Obama,

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