Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is on a multi-Asian tour trying to strengthen U.S. ties to China, Japan, Vietnam, and other Asian nations. A recent dispute over the Diayou/Senkaku islands between China and Japan in the East Asian Sea loomed over visit. “We’ve encouraged both Japan and China to seek a peaceful resolution of any disagreement,” Clinton said in a speech in Hanoi yesterday, where she attended a regional summit with Wen, Kan and 15 other Asia-Pacific leaders. “It’s in all of our interests to have stable, peaceful relations” between China and Japan, she said. In private meetings with Japan and China she has made clear that she wants the “temperature to go down on these issues” a senior official said. The United States has not taken a position or become involved in the Senkaku/Diayou island dispute, even when the U.S. left this islands in the 1970s after decades of occupation following WWII, but that appears to be changing under the Obama administration. The U.S. desire to mediate the dispute has China displeased. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, said China “will never accept any word or deed that includes the Diaoyu Islands within the scope” of the treaty.
Image available from ABC News.
The dispute between China and Japan certainly needs to be resolved. China has ceased high level talks with Japan on regional coal and fishing cooperation due to the Diayou/Senkaku islands dispute. Japan and many other Asian countries would be willing to have the U.S. to become involved in solving regional sovereignty disputes with China. “The region fears being dominated by a rising China,” said Ernest Bower, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The solution? Invite the Americans to join. This gives the rest of Asia the balance they want.” However, the U.S. would likely seek a resolution siding with Japan because of closer ties to the country and that Japan probably has the upper hand in terms of international law, due to continued peaceful occupation. China would also fear that any U.S. involvement may hint at deciding on Taiwan, which China continues to claim as part of its territory.
U.S. interests may be best served by continuing to remain neutral on the issue and not offering to mediate the dispute. Any role as mediator would simply further anger China and would be seen as the U.S. seeking to become unnecessarily involved. If the mediation would in the end give the islands to Japan then U.S.-China relations would become even more icy. The U.S. wastes a great deal of its political capital with China by trying to become involved in the dispute, which would better be preserved for discussions on currency exchange or the expansion of the the Chinese naval fleet. The U.S. should suggest the Diayou/Senkaku issue be resolved by submitting the issue to the an international tribunal or another arbitrator. At a minimum, the U.S. could refrain from making public remarks about the dispute.
Image available from american.edu.