Pentagon chief calls for calm in Japan-China spat

September 17, 2012 7:11 am
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Panetta listens to a question from a US military personnel stationed at the Yokota air base in Tokyo/AFP
TOKYO, Sep 17 – US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta called for diplomatic efforts to resolve a worsening territorial spat between Japan and China on Monday, the day after warning disputes could draw East Asia into war.

Speaking after meetings in Tokyo with senior Japanese figures, Panetta urged “calm and restraint on all sides” in a row over disputed islands that has rapidly escalated in the last week into sometimes violent protests in China.

“Obviously we’re concerned by the demonstrations and the conflict over the Senkaku islands,” Panetta said, referring to the Japanese-administered archipelago that China claims and calls Diaoyu.

“It is extremely important that diplomatic means on both sides be used to try to constructively resolve these issues,” he said, adding a resolution of the dispute has to be based on “clear principles” and international law.

“It’s in everybody’s interest for Japan and China to maintain good relations and to find a way to avoid further escalation,” said Panetta, pounding the podium for emphasis.

Panetta arrived in Tokyo on Sunday evening after days of anti-Japanese protests had rocked cities across China, with diplomatic missions being targeted in some instances.

Speaking to reporters travelling on his plane, Panetta said intemperate actions over the disputed East China Sea islands could have serious consequences.

“It raises the possibility that a misjudgement on one side or the other could result in violence, and could result in conflict,” he said.

“And that conflict would then have the potential of expanding.”

Japan and China, Asia’s two largest economies, have long been at loggerheads over the island chain, but tensions have spiked recently.

Last week, Japan announced it had nationalised three of the islands, triggering an angry reaction in China. Tokyo already owns another and leases the fifth.

“It’s in everybody’s interest for Japan and China to maintain good relations and to find a way to avoid further escalation,” said Panetta, pounding the podium for emphasis.

The uninhabited islands lie along important shipping lanes and the seabed nearby is thought to harbour valuable mineral resources.

The Senkaku dispute is just one of a number of island sovereignty rows in the area, many of which involve an increasingly assertive China.

“We could have a blow up on any one of these issues,” Panetta later told around 350 of the approximately 47,000 US military personnel stationed in Japan, during a visit to Yokota Air Base.

Panetta told reporters the US commitment to Japan, in the form of a mutual defence treaty, was unwavering.

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