U.S. Defense Secretary warns Japan-China territorial spat could lead to war; urges calm on both sides

Monday, September 17, 2012
By Paul Martin

September 17, 2012

JAPAN – US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called for diplomatic efforts to resolve a worsening territorial spat between Japan and China on Monday, the day after warning disputes could draw East Asia into war. Speaking after meetings in Tokyo with senior Japanese figures, Panetta urged “calm and restraint on all sides” in a row over disputed islands that has rapidly escalated in the last week into sometimes violent protests in China. “Obviously we’re concerned by the demonstrations and the conflict over the Senkaku islands,” Panetta said, referring to the Japanese-administered archipelago that China claims and calls Diaoyu. “It is extremely important that diplomatic means on both sides be used to try to constructively resolve these issues,” he said, adding a resolution of the dispute has to be based on “clear principles” and international law. “It’s in everybody’s interest for Japan and China to maintain good relations and to find a way to avoid further escalation,” said Panetta, pounding the podium for emphasis. Panetta arrived in Tokyo on Sunday evening after days of anti-Japanese protests had rocked cities across China, with diplomatic missions being targeted in some instances. Speaking to reporters travelling on his plane, Panetta said intemperate actions over the disputed East China Sea islands could have serious consequences. “It raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence, and could result in conflict,” he said. “And that conflict would then have the potential of expanding.” Japan and China, Asia’s two largest economies, have long been at loggerheads over the island chain, but tensions have spiked recently. Last week, Japan announced it had nationalized three of the islands, triggering an angry reaction in China. Tokyo already owns another and leases the fifth. The uninhabited islands lie along important shipping lanes and the seabed nearby is thought to harbor valuable mineral resources. Panetta said Monday the US commitment to Japan, in the form of a mutual defense treaty, was unwavering. “Obviously we stand by our treaty obligations. They are longstanding, and that does not change.” The US has around 47,000 troops stationed in Japan. But he said the United States as a matter of policy does not take a position on the territorial dispute. –Inquirer News

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