President Joe Biden has told Japan that US security guarantees apply to the Senkaku Islands, sending a warning to China about the features in the East China Sea that are administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.
The White House on Wednesday said that Mr Biden had made clear in his first phone call as president with Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga that the US-Japan mutual defence treaty applied to the disputed islands.
“The leaders . . . discussed the United States’ unwavering commitment to the defence of Japan under Article 5 of our security treaty, which includes the Senkaku,” the White House said. “President Biden reaffirmed to the prime minister his commitment to provide extended deterrence to Japan.”
The statement sends a clear message to China that the new administration will take a strong stand on the islands, which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyu.
The islands have become one of the big flashpoints in the Asia-Pacific region — along with the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait — as China has become increasingly assertive in recent years.
In November, Mr Suga said Mr Biden had provided assurances about the Senkaku in a call after the US election, but the Biden team did not refer to the islands in a statement and did not confirm what Mr Suga had claimed.
The White House statement on Wednesday marks the latest sign since Mr Biden was inaugurated that his administration will take a tough stance on China over everything from human rights to national security.
It follows a warning from the US to China to stop intimidating Taiwan after Chinese fighter jets and bombers flew into the country’s air defence zone.
China conducted two days of military flights over the weekend after Mr Biden invited Hsiao Bi-Khim, Taiwan’s representative to the US, to his swearing in. It was the first time that the de facto Taiwanese ambassador to Washington had been invited to a presidential inauguration.
The White House on Wednesday said Mr Biden and Mr Suga had affirmed the importance of the US-Japan alliance as the “cornerstone of peace and prosperity” in the region.
While Japan has long been the most important US ally in the region, Tokyo was anxious during the previous administration as Donald Trump repeatedly threatened to withdraw troops from the country.
Barack Obama became the first American president to publicly state that the Senkaku were covered by the US-Japan defence treaty.
The latest White House statement comes as the Biden administration starts an internal review of many of the policies that Mr Trump implemented to tackle the security challenges posed by China.
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