President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took several shots at China in a joint press conference at the White House Friday.
Without ever directly calling China out by name, the two heads of state suggested that China will not be permitted to use force to alter the status quo in the disputed East China Sea.
“We are committed to the security of Japan and all areas under its administrative control,” Trump explained, adding that the “U.S.-Japanese alliance is the cornerstone for peace and stability in the Pacific.”
Calling Japan an “important and steadfast ally,” Trump further noted that together, Japan and the U.S. will build “impenetrable defenses.”
China believes that Japan has been cozying up to Trump to ensure that the U.S. continues to serve as a counterweight to a rising China.
Last weekend, Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated that the U.S. will continue to recognize Japanese administration of the Senakaku (Diaoyu) Islands, a collection of uninhabited territories in the contested East China Sea claimed by China but administered by Japan. He also stressed that the islands were covered by the U.S.-Japanese security agreement.
China rejected the decision, strongly criticizing the U.S. for stirring up regional instability.
“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 said in response.
That China will not be permitted to seize the Senkakus from Japan was reiterated by the Japanese prime minister during the press conference. Abe also explained that it will support freedom of navigation and strengthening of the U.S. position in Asia.
“We strongly protest the use of force or coercion to change the status quo” in contested waters, Abe explained, a possible reference to China’s regular incursions into Japanese-controlled waters. China dispatched three ships to the Senkakus Monday in response to the relevant comments from Mattis.
The prime minister also indirectly called out China for free-riding on intellectual property and unfairly backing its state-owned enterprises in international markets.
Despite the not-so-subtle jabs at sensitive issues, Trump did say that he had a “good conversation” with Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday evening and that the U.S. and China are in “the process of getting along very well.”
In his recent dealings with China and Japan, Trump has signaled that he is interested in defusing regional tensions as best as possible.
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