Obama Treads Carefully on Japan-China Dispute

Paul Brandus / West Wing Reports

President Obama, reassuring his Japanese hosts, said Thursday that the United States was obligated by a defense treaty to protect Japan in its confrontation with China over a group of islands in the East China Sea.

But during a news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mr. Obama failed to say who has sovereignty over the islands; he merely urged both sides to refrain from provoking one another. The nuanced message underscored the difficulty the President faces of supporting Japan while not appearing to try and contain a rising Chinese behmoth.

Tensions have been rising between Japan and China over the disputed islands, which Japan administers and calls the Senkaku; Beijing claims them under the name Diaoyu.

“Historically, they have been administered by Japan, and we do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally,” Mr. Obama said. “What is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan.”

The comments came on the first full day of Obama's eight-day journey to Asia, a trip designed to shw that the United States remains as engaged as ever in the region, which the President today called essential for America's security and economic prosperity. 

Mr. Obama cited progress on a key trade deal - the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - but behind the scenes negotiators appeared at odds over key issues like U.S. agricultural exports to Japan. At home, Mr. Obama also faces fierce opposition to the TPP from Democratic leaders in Congress and key labor unions.


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