China challenged the promise of Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ to defend Japan’s disputed islands in the East China Sea.
China sent three coastguard vessels within twelve nautical miles of the highly-contested Senaku/Diaoyu Islands, territories administered by Japan but claimed by China, to send a message to both the U.S. and Japan.
“Our long-standing policy on the Senkaku Islands stands — the US will continue to recognize Japanese administration of the islands and as such Article 5 of the US-Japan Security Treaty applies,” Mattis said at a press conference in Tokyo.
The decision to defend Japanese administration of the Senkakus began in 2014 under former President Barack Obama.
China first responded with strong rhetoric.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the U.S.-Japanese security agreement an outdated product of the Cold War “which should not impair China’s territorial sovereignty and legitimate rights.”
“We urge the U.S. side to take a responsible attitude, stop making wrong remarks on the issue involving the Diaoyu Islands sovereignty, and avoid making the issue more complicated and bringing instability to the regional situation,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang explained.
Chinese media accused Mattis of stirring up regional instability.
To further make its position clear, China sent three Haijing patrol boats into the disputed waters to assert its dominance over the territories in question.
The Japanese Coast Guard reported that the Chinese ships spent two hours near the islands, adding that this is the fourth time this year Beijing has sent ships into Japanese-controlled waters.
“It is both a signal that China won’t be intimidated from defending its interests/claims and a test to see how the new (Trump) administration responds,” Carl Schuster, the former director of operations at the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, told CNN.
The Secretary of State reaffirmed the U.S. position Tuesday. “The United States will be against any unilateral action made to damage the Japanese administration of the Senkaku Islands,” Rex Tillerson told Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
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