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Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2012

Panetta tells Japan, China to resolve Senkaku row peacefully

U.S. defense chief avoids favoritism but backs treaty

Staff writer

Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday urged Japan and China to peacefully resolve the intensifying territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, expressing concern the diplomatic row could result in a military clash over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.

Local fishing boat prepare to sail for waters around the Senkaku Islands on Monday afternoon
Readying an armada: Local fishing boats at a port in Xiangshan County in eastern China's Zhejiang Province prepare to sail for waters around the Senkaku Islands on Monday afternoon. Chinese media reported that the vessels would arrive in the area later in the day. KYODO

"It is extremely important that diplomatic means on both sides be used" to avoid further escalation, Panetta said during a news conference with Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto after their meeting.

The online edition of the Central People's Broadcasting Station, China's official radio station, later reported that around 1,000 Chinese fishing boats were expected to arrive in waters near the Japan-administered Senkakus the same day, according to Kyodo News. The islands, claimed by China as Diaoyu, have become a potential flashpoint for military clashes between the two countries.

China dispatched patrol boats to the area following Japan's purchase last week of three of the five Senkaku islets from a Saitama-based businessman.

At the conference, Panetta restated Washington's stance that it won't take sides on the competing sovereignty claims. But he also repeated that the United States will "stand by treaty obligation" with Tokyo, which includes defending Japanese soil, based on the Japan-U.S. security treaty.

A Defense Ministry official later refused to comment on the details of what Panetta and Morimoto discussed regarding the Senkakus during their dialogue in Tokyo, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

The Japan-U.S. security treaty obliges the U.S. to defend Japan if an area under Japanese administration is attacked by another country. But observers say if a remote island is attacked, it would likely be up to Japan to respond first, not the U.S. military.

As for the controversial plan to deploy V-22 Osprey to Okinawa, the two sides agreed that progress was being made on assessing its safety. Many Okinawans oppose the plan, which will deploy the aircraft at Futenma air base, situated in a densely populated area of the city of Ginowan.

Misgivings about the hybrid aircraft's safety have sparked antideployment rallies in Okinawa, Yamaguchi Prefecture and elsewhere. Morimoto and Panetta agreed last month in Washington to delay Osprey flights in Japan until safety is assured.

A review by a joint Japan-U.S. committee "has made substantial progress," Morimoto said. Panetta added that a positive announcement can be expected soon and the U.S. is ready to do whatever it can to ensure the safety of the plane, which has crashed twice this year.

"Ospreys are important to the defense of Japan," Panetta said, adding that the bilateral alliance "is the bedrock of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region."

Panetta arrived in Tokyo on Sunday on the first leg of a trip that will take him to China and New Zealand later this week.

Missile defense radar


The Japanese and U.S. defense chiefs have agreed to deploy another high-powered X-band missile defense radar outpost in Japan, officials said Monday.

The move is designed to counter the threat posed by North Korea's missile arsenal, a U.S. defense official said.

"The second radar in Japan will enhance the alliance's ability to defend Japan, our forward deployed forces, and the U.S. homeland from a ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea," the official said.

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