WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Japanese leaders on Monday that Washington’s treaty commitments to Japan’s security remain “iron-clad” and cover all territories under Tokyo’s administration, including tiny islands in the East China Sea that China also claims.
Kerry renewed the security pledge related to the islets, known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China, at a New York news conference with Japan’s foreign and defense ministers to unveil updated U.S.-Japan defense guidelines on the eve of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s talks with President Barack Obama.
“It’s an historic transition in the defense relationship between our two countries,” Kerry said.
The new guidelines for defense cooperation reflect Japan’s willingness to take on a more robust international role at a time of growing Chinese power and rising concerns about nuclear-armed North Korea.
It follows a Japanese Cabinet resolution last year reinterpreting Japan’s pacifist post-World War Two constitution to allow the exercise of the right to “collective self-defense”.
At the news conference, Kerry made clear that Washington was ready to stick to its treaty obligations to come to Japan’s defense, an effort to reassure the Japanese in its maritime dispute with China.
In a pointed message to Beijing over its increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea as well, Kerry said the United States rejects any suggestion that freedom of navigation and overflight “are privileges granted by big states to small ones subject to the whim and fancy of the big state”.
“Our treaty commitments to Japan’s security remains iron-clad and covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku islands,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that the security arrangement between the United States and Japan should not harm the interests of third parties such as China and ensure regional stability.
“As for the Diaoyu Islands, our position is clear and consistent - they are China’s inherent territory. No matter what anyone says or does, it cannot change the reality that they belong to China,” Hong told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Alex Richardson