Mattis comment over disputed Asian island draws rebuke from Beijing

Defense Secretary James Mattis completed his first trip abroad on Saturday, one in which he visited South Korea and Japan to reaffirm long-standing security alliances and amid concerns over heated rhetoric from China and increasing nuclear belligerence from North Korea.

As Sec. Mattis toured Japan with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, the two nations successfully conducted an anti-ballistic missile test on the SM-3 in the Pacific Ocean.

Seeking to sweep away uncertainty over America’s commitment to regional allies, Japan in particular, Mattis told Abe:

“We stand firmly, 100 percent, shoulder-to-shoulder with you and Japanese people.  I wanted to make certain that Article Five of our mutual defense treaty is understood to be as real to us today as it was a year ago, five years ago and it will be a year and 10 years from now.”

Article Five of the 1952 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, binds the U.S. to the defense of all territory under Japanese administration.

Mr. Mattis described China as “shredding the trust of nations in the region.”

Flustered by Mattis’ trip to the region and his remarks sustaining the relationship between Washington and Tokyo, Beijing reacted angrily and warned the U.S. was inviting regional instability if the secretary’s remarks were intended to comprise disputed islands of which both Japan and China claim sovereignty.

Although Mattis did not specifically mention any island or island group, Lu Kang, a spokesman with the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a terse statement:

“We urge the U.S. side to adopt a responsible attitude and stop making wrong remarks on the issue of the sovereignty of Diaoyu Islands.”

Known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, the island chain is an oil-rich, lies roughly 200 miles to the east of the Chinese coast and was transferred to Japanese administration by the U.S. in 1971.  China refers to the islands as Diaoyu.  Similarly, Taiwan claims jurisdiction over the islands.

Saturday’s release follows a vexed statement from Beijing in which the Chinese berated the U.S. over President Trump’s commitment to place the THAAD missile system in South Korea.

Despite Mattis’ repeated pledges to support Seoul and Tokyo militarily, Mattis emphasized consistent dialogue and statesmanship were the superlative methods to settle any disputes between concerned parties in the region.

“What we have to do is exhaust all efforts, diplomatic efforts, to try and resolve this properly,” he said.


[Reuters] [RT News] [Asia Maritime Reviews] [New York Post] [Photo courtesy EPA via South China Morning Post]