Tension maintained: China says it will maintain patrols near Japan’s new island base


An aerial view shows Yonaguni island, Okinawa prefecture in this picture taken by Kyodo on March 28, 2007.  Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

An aerial view shows Yonaguni island, Okinawa prefecture in this picture taken by Kyodo on March 28, 2007.
Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

China’s defense ministry said on Thursday it will continue military patrols in waters near a tropical Japanese island close to Taiwan, days after Tokyo announced it would break ground on a new radar base in the area.

The radar station on Yonaguni Island, just 150 km (93 miles) from a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea, marks Japan’s first military expansion at the western end of its island chain in more than 40 years.

“We are playing close attention to Japan’s relevant military trends,” Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said in comments posted on the ministry’s website.

“China’s military will continue to carry out battle readiness patrols, military drills and other activities in the relevant area,” Yang said.

Plans for the new base, which could extend Japan’s monitoring capability up to the Chinese mainland, come as relations between Tokyo and Beijing have deteriorated due to the row over the islands and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war criminals are honored among the country’s war dead.

China’s ties with Japan have long been colored by what Beijing considers Tokyo’s failure to atone for its brutal wartime occupation of parts of the country.

China’s modernizing navy, and its increasingly assertive stance on what it sees as its sovereign maritime territory in the East China and South China Seas, has sparked nervousness from other countries in the region – particularly Japan.

The 30 sq km (11 sq mile) Yonaguni is home to 1,500 people and known for strong rice liquor, cattle, sugar cane and scuba diving. Abe’s decision to put troops there shows Japan’s concerns about the vulnerability of its thousands of islands and the perceived threat from China.

U.S. President Barack Obama assured ally Japan on Thursday during a state visit there that Washington was committed to its defence, but denied he had drawn any new “red line” and urged peaceful dialogue with China over the islands, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

Source: Reuters “China says it will maintain patrols near Japan’s new island base”

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  • China fires shot across US bow ahead of Obama’s Asia trip dated April 10, 2014
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  • US Not Willing to Be Drawn into War by Japan or Philippines dated February 11, 2014

Verbal Confrontation between Obama and China but No Threat of War Yet


After Obama has reaffirmed US commitment to defend Japan for the disputed Diaoyu (known as Senkadu in Japan) Islands when he is visiting Japan, Chinese Foreign Ministry promptly responded by saying, “No matter what anyone says or does, it cannot change the basic reality that the Diaoyu Islands are China’s inherent territory and cannot shake the resolve and determination of the Chinese government and people to protect (our) sovereignty and maritime rights.”

The verbal confrontation is sharp, but so far there is no threat of war as long as Japan does not fire the first shot because Chinese military is inferior to American one.

What if after years of military buildup, Chinese military is strong enough to confront the US?

The danger of war remains.

Reuters’ clip on the verbal confrontation can be seen at http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/24/us-japan-usa-obama-interview-idUSBREA3L1YD20140424.

As for Reuters report on Obama’s visit and the confrontation, the following is the full text of Reuters report titled “Obama reaffirms commitment to Japan on tour of Asia allies”:

U.S. President Barack Obama assured ally Japan on Thursday that Washington was committed to its defense, including of tiny isles at the heart of a row with China, but denied he had drawn any new “red line” and urged peaceful dialogue over the islands.

His comments drew a swift response from China, which said the disputed islets were Chinese territory.

Obama also urged Japan to take “bold steps” to clinch a two-way trade pact seen as crucial to a broad regional agreement that is a central part of the U.S. leader’s “pivot” of military, diplomatic and economic resources towards Asia and the Pacific.

U.S. and Japanese trade negotiators failed to resolve differences in time for Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to shake hands on a deal at the summit.

The leaders reported progress, but Japan’s economics minister, Akira Amari, said later that remaining sticking points could not be resolved quickly.

Obama, on the start of a four-nation tour, is being treated to a display of pomp and ceremony meant to show that the U.S.-Japan alliance, the main pillar of America’s security strategy in Asia, is solid at a time of rising tensions over growing Chinese assertiveness and North Korean nuclear threats.

“We don’t take a position on final sovereignty determinations with respect to Senkaku, but historically they have been administered by Japan and we do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally and what is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan,” Obama said.

“This is not a new position, this is a consistent one,” he told a joint news conference after his summit with Abe, using the Japanese name for the islands that China, which also claims sovereignty over them, calls the Diaoyu.

“In our discussions, I emphasized with Prime Minister Abe the importance of resolving this issue peacefully,” Obama added.

Whilst his comments amounted to a restatement of longstanding U.S. policy, there was symbolism in the commitment being stated explicitly by a U.S. president in Japan.

Responding to Obama’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a daily press briefing in Beijing that the islands belonged to China.

“The so-called U.S.-Japan security treaty is a product of the Cold War era and it cannot be aimed at a third party and ought not to harm China’s territorial sovereignty,” he said.

“No matter what anyone says or does, it cannot change the basic reality that the Diaoyu Islands are China’s inherent territory and cannot shake the resolve and determination of the Chinese government and people to protect (our) sovereignty and maritime rights.”

INTERNATIONAL RULES

Obama also said there were opportunities to work with China – which complains that his real aim is to contain its rise – but called on the Asian power to stick to international rules.

“What we’ve also emphasized, and I will continue to emphasize throughout this trip, is that all of us have responsibilities to help maintain basic rules of the world and international order, so that large countries, small countries, all have to abide by what is considered just and fair,” he said.

Some of China’s neighbors with territorial disputes with Beijing worry that Obama’s apparent inability to rein in Russia, which annexed Crimea last month, could send a message of weakness to China.

Obama told the news conference that additional sanctions were “teed up” against Russia if it does not deliver on promises in an agreement reached in Geneva last week to ease tensions in Ukraine.

Obama and Abe also agreed that their top trade aides, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Amari, would keep trying to narrow gaps in their trade talks.

“This is not something we can reach a conclusion (on) in a short period of time,” Amari told reporters after meeting Froman again after the leaders’ summit.

Abe has touted the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as key to the “Third Arrow” of his economic program to reinvigorate the world’s third-biggest economy, along with hyper-easy monetary policy and fiscal spending.

Both sides have also stressed that the TPP would have strategic implications by creating a framework for business that could entice China to play by global rules.

But the talks have been stymied by Japan’s efforts to protect politically powerful agriculture sectors such as beef, and disputes over both countries’ auto markets.

Pointing to restrictions on access to Japan’s farm and auto sectors, Obama said: “Those are all issues that people are all familiar with and at some point have to be resolved. I believe that point is now.”

Experts had said failure to reach a final deal could cast doubts on Abe’s commitment to economic reform and take the wind out of the sails of a drive for a broader TPP agreement.

“If they don’t show progress … it will be harder to use TPP as a spur to reforms,” said Robert Feldman, a managing director at Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities in Tokyo. “It gives the anti-reform forces aid and comfort.”

DIPLOMATIC CHALLENGE

The diplomatic challenge for Obama during his week-long, four-nation regional tour is to convince Asian partners that Washington is serious about its promised strategic “pivot”, while at the same time not harming U.S. ties with China, the world’s second-biggest economy.

Obama will also travel to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Abe – who repeatedly referred to the U.S. president as “Barack” during their news conference – and Obama were keen to send a message of solidarity after U.S-Japan ties were strained by Abe’s December visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

Japan lobbied hard to get the White House to agree to an official state visit, the first by a sitting U.S. president since Bill Clinton in 1996.

Abe is trying to soothe U.S. concerns that his conservative push to recast Japan’s war record with a less apologetic tone is overshadowing pragmatic policies on the economy and security.

“Seventy years ago, when the war ended, Japan gave grave damage and pain to many people, particularly people in Asia. Japan started taking post-war steps by reflecting on this. Japan and Japanese people have continued to take the path of peace for the past 70 years,” Abe told the joint news conference.

“Japan has strived to create a free and democratic country after the war. We have been building a country that respects human rights and the rule of law,” he said.

Source: Reuters “Obama reaffirms commitment to Japan on tour of Asia allies”

Related posts:

  • Obama looks to salvage Asia ‘pivot’ as allies fret about China dated April 17, 2014
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  • China fires shot across US bow ahead of Obama’s Asia trip dated April 10, 2014
  • US Defense chief prods ‘great power’ China to respect neighbors dated April 7, 2014
  • US Not Willing to Be Drawn into War by Japan or Philippines dated February 11, 2014

Obama looks to salvage Asia ‘pivot’ as allies fret about China


U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, April 10, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, April 10, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

When a Philippine government ship evaded a Chinese blockade in disputed waters of the South China Sea last month, a U.S. Navy plane swooped in to witness the dramatic encounter.

The flyover was a vivid illustration of the expanding significance of one of Asia’s most strategic regions and underscored a message that senior U.S. officials say President Barack Obama will make in Asia next week: The “pivot” of U.S. military and diplomatic assets toward the Asia-Pacific region is real.

Washington’s Asian allies, however, appear unconvinced.

During Obama’s four-nation tour of Asia that begins on April 23, his toughest challenge will be to reassure skeptical leaders that the United States intends to be more than just a casual observer and instead is genuinely committed to countering an increasingly assertive China in the region.

Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula – and perceptions of limited U.S. options to get Moscow to back down – has heightened unease in Japan, the Philippines and elsewhere about whether Beijing might feel emboldened to use force to pursue its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas.

There is also suspicion among some Asian allies that if they come under threat from China, the United States – despite treaty obligations to come to their aid – might craft a response aimed more at controlling damage to its own vital relationship with China, the world’s second-biggest economic power.

For Obama, the tricky part of the trip, which will include stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, will be deciding how to set limits on China in a way that soothes U.S. allies in Asia but avoids stoking tensions with Beijing.

“Obama’s upcoming visit will be the most critical test of this administration’s Asia policy,” said Richard Jacobson, a Manila-based analyst with TD International, a business risk and strategic consulting firm.

U.S. officials say the Obama administration’s long-promised “rebalancing” of America’s economic, diplomatic and security policy toward Asia is on track, largely unaffected by the attention demanded by the crisis in Ukraine or persistent troubles in the Middle East.

The Asia “pivot” – as the White House initially dubbed it – represented a strategy to refocus on the region’s dynamic economies as the United States disentangled itself from costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But doubts about Washington’s commitment to Asia are simmering in some allied capitals.

“It was a welcome policy change, but will they do it?” Yukio Okamoto, a former Japanese government adviser on foreign affairs said of the strategic shift toward Asia that Obama announced in 2011. “We do not see any actual sign” of its implementation.

When Obama announced the eastward shift, the most dramatic symbol of the new policy was the planned deployment of 2,500 U.S. Marines in northern Australia, where they would be primed to respond to regional conflicts. It took until this month to build up forces to 1,150 Marines based in Darwin, and the full contingent is not due to be in place until 2017.

“The U.S. pivot towards Asia has had very few tangible, concrete outcomes so far,” said Adam Lockyer, a foreign policy and defense analyst at the University of New South Wales.

A SIGN OF ANXIETY

Obama will try to put those concerns to rest while in Manila, where Philippine officials say he is expected to sign a security pact that will allow for increased use of Philippine bases by U.S. ships, aircraft and troops.

Manila’s acceptance of a beefed-up U.S. military presence, a politically sensitive issue in the independent-minded archipelago nation, would reveal the scale of Philippine anxiety over China.

The Philippine Senate voted to evict the U.S. military from their bases in 1991, ending 94 years of American military presence in the Philippines, and has only gradually allowed the return of U.S. forces for limited operations during the past decade.

The Philippine government is struggling to keep control of Second Thomas Shoal, where it has a military outpost on a reef surrounded by Chinese coastguard ships. The outpost itself is a huge, rusting World War Two transport vessel that the Philippine navy intentionally ran aground in 1999 to mark its claim.

Eight or so Filipino soldiers live there for three months at a time in harsh conditions on a reef that Manila says is within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. China, which claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, says the shoal is part of its territory.

Last month, a U.S. surveillance plane was spotted overhead as a Philippine vessel dodged Chinese coastguard vessels to deliver supplies and fresh troops to the outpost.

Such U.S. aircraft normally conduct their missions at higher altitudes, so the fact that its flyover was in full view of journalists monitoring the incident on the surface below suggested that the United States wanted to make its presence known. A Chinese plane and a Philippine military aircraft also flew above the area at different intervals.

The administration has promised that the United States will reposition naval forces so that 60 percent of its warships are based in Asia-Pacific by the end of the decade, up from about 50 percent now. But as the U.S. military budget contracts, that likely would represent part of a shrinking U.S. defense pie.

Obama’s aides brush aside complaints about the U.S. follow-through on the pivot strategy, saying that no matter how much attention Washington devotes to friends and partners in the region, the allies will always want more from their superpower friend.

“Questions by Asia-Pacific allies about the degree of American commitment has been a constant component of our relationship for 60-plus years. It’s not new,” said a senior U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to comment publicly. “It doesn’t mean the U.S. won’t do more to work with them.”

MAKING UP FOR OBAMA’S NO-SHOW

Obama himself helped to fuel some of the skepticism about the United States’ commitment to Asia when he abruptly canceled a long-planned trip to Asia to attend two regional summits last fall and stayed home to deal with a U.S. government shutdown.

Since then, negotiations have dragged on over a proposed U.S.-led trans-Pacific trade pact that is widely seen as the economic centerpiece of Obama’s pivot strategy.

In this tense regional climate, Obama can be expected to appeal directly to Asian leaders to have faith in America’s resolve to keep China in check and discourage any notion that Beijing could emulate Russia’s takeover of Crimea by seizing contested islands and shoals from its neighbors.

“Among countries in Asia, there has been an increase in the level of anxiety about what lessons China may be drawing from Russia and Ukraine,” the senior U.S. official said.

While sticking to a U.S. refusal to take sides in the maritime disputes, Obama will seek to reassure South Korea, Japan and the Philippines that Washington is “fully committed to our defense treaties” with them, the official said.

Obama’s Japanese hosts likely will only be satisfied if the president takes a tough stand against China and in solidarity with Japan amid growing concern that Washington’s defense commitment may be wavering.

Tokyo and Beijing are locked in a bitter row in the East China Sea over tiny, uninhabited isles administered by Japan, especially since China announced the creation of a controversial new air defense zone covering the area, which the Japanese call Senkaku and the Chinese call Diaoyu.

Relations between Japan and China have been further poisoned by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a controversial shrine for war dead seen as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism – a move that drew U.S. criticism as well.

Obama, the U.S. official said, will send a message during his Asian tour to China that “it should not use intimidation or coercion” against its neighbors.

That is not likely to go down well in Beijing, where visiting U.S. Secretary of State Chuck Hagel faced harsh accusations last week from Chinese officials who claimed that Washington’s regional agenda was aimed at blocking China’s rise.

Source: Reuters “Obama looks to salvage Asia ‘pivot’ as allies fret about China”

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China fires shot across U.S. bow ahead of Obama’s Asia trip


U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a visit to Bladensburg High School in Bladensburg, Maryland April 7, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a visit to Bladensburg High School in Bladensburg, Maryland April 7, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

In one of the many frank exchanges U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had in China this week, General Fan Changlong told him how one of his uncles died as a slave in a Japanese mine during World War Two.

Fan, deputy head of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, spoke about the lessons of history, signaling Beijing’s concerns that the United States was siding with Japan against China.

Hagel replied by saying his own father had helped fight Japanese forces in World War Two.

“The secretary made it very clear that we should be informed by history but not driven by it,” a U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity to recount a conversation on Tuesday that he described as terse.

The exchange sums up the frustration in China over America’s role in Asia, where in the eyes of Beijing, Washington is increasingly supporting Japan as well as other countries over territorial disputes with China. The United States has said it is not taking sides but stands ready to defend its allies.

China, some experts said, appeared to be getting anxious that recent tough talk from U.S. officials over the disputed East and South China Seas could be a preview of what U.S. President Barack Obama would say when he visits Asia this month.

Dispensing with diplomatic protocol, China has made clear this week that it does not want Obama jumping in with both feet when he travels to Japan, the Philippines and Malaysia.

While Beijing has territorial disputes with all three, its ties with Japan and the Philippines, both U.S. allies, are in the deep freeze. Obama will also visit South Korea, with whom Beijing is enjoying warm relations.

China is at loggerheads with Japan in the East China Sea over uninhabited islets that are administered by Tokyo. China also claims most of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan claim parts of those waters.

“Obama needs to pay serious consideration to this issue when he comes to Asia…China has already put this message across during the meetings with Hagel,” said Ruan Zongze, a former diplomat with the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, a think tank linked to the Foreign Ministry.

“The United States is moving in a direction we don’t want to see, taking sides with Japan and the Philippines, and China is extremely unhappy about this.”

An Obama administration official acknowledged to reporters traveling with Hagel that the tone was sharper on issues surrounding the South and East China Seas than it had been on the last visit by a U.S. defense secretary to China. That was when Hagel’s predecessor Leon Panetta visited in 2012.

“But in other areas the tone was actually improved,” the Obama administration official said, pointing to discussions on Sino-U.S. military cooperation and even North Korea.

CHINA DISSATISFIED

On Tuesday, Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan told Hagel that Washington should restrain Japan and chided the Philippines.

Fan told Hagel outright that the “Chinese people are dissatisfied” with U.S. support for Japan and Southeast Asia, according to a statement carried on the Chinese defense ministry’s website.

The influential tabloid the Global Times, published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in an editorial on Wednesday that such strong words “have not been seen much in the past”.

China’s ties with Japan have long been poisoned by what Beijing sees as Tokyo’s failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two. Japan’s repeated official apologies for wartime suffering are sometimes undercut by contradictory comments by conservative politicians.

For its part, China has alarmed the region, and Washington, with its increasingly tough line on territorial disputes.

It announced its biggest rise in military spending in three years last month, a signal from President Xi Jinping that China is not about to back away from its growing assertiveness.

China’s military spending has allowed Beijing to create a modern force that is projecting power not only across the disputed waters of the East and South China Seas, but further into the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University and who has advised the government on diplomatic issues, said the last thing Beijing wanted was for Obama to round on China when he is in Asia.

“They hope that the Obama visit will not be used to rally other countries against China. If you listen to the harsh rhetoric of senior (U.S.) administration officials, this is a genuine concern.”

Much of the tough comments from U.S. officials have come since China announced the creation of a controversial new air defense identification zone that covers the disputed Japanese-administered islands in the East China Sea.

“They (Chinese officials) are trying to figure out whether it’s the lower level (U.S.) people coming out and making these comments so the boss doesn’t have to, or whether it’s moving to a crescendo,” said Christopher Johnson, a former senior China analyst at the CIA and now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“I think there is a concern that this debate could be swayed substantially if Obama were to make very forthright comments on this trip and that could tip the balance internally and make it more difficult for Xi to emphasize the Sino-U.S. relationship as paramount.”

Source: Reuters “China fires shot across U.S. bow ahead of Obama’s Asia trip”

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US Defense chief prods ‘great power’ China to respect neighbors


U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey (L) testify before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on ''The FY2015 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense'' on Capitol Hill in Washington March 6, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey (L) testify before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on ”The FY2015 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense” on Capitol Hill in Washington March 6, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, on the eve of a trip to China, called on Beijing to use its “great power” responsibly and said he would urge its leaders to respect neighbors increasingly anxious over its posture in territorial disputes.

“Great powers have great responsibilities. And China is a great power,” Hagel said, adding he wanted to talk with China about its use of military power, and encourage transparency.

Hagel was speaking during a visit to ally Japan, where there is growing concern over China’s military buildup and its increasingly assertive posture in a territorial dispute with Tokyo over islands in the East China Sea.

“Something else that … I will be talking with the Chinese about is respect for their neighbors. Coercion, intimidation is a very deadly thing that leads only to conflict,” he said.

“All nations, all people deserve respect.”

In unusually strong language almost certainly meant to reassure Japan, a treaty ally that the United States has pledged to defend, Hagel pointed to the example of Russia’s annexation of Crimea as the kind of action that would not be tolerated.

“You cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and the sovereignty of nations by force, coercion or intimidation, whether it’s in small islands in the Pacific, or in large nations in Europe,” he said.

Japan has drawn parallels between Russia’s actions in Crimea and what it sees as China’s challenge to the status quo in East China Sea.

Hagel, who leaves for a three day visit to China on Monday, hosted talks last week with Southeast Asian defense ministers where he also warned of growing U.S. concern about territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Source: Reuters “Defense chief prods ‘great power’ China to respect neighbors”

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U.S. to skip China fleet review after Japan shunned


U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks during the closing news conference at a meeting of defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Honolulu, Hawaii, April 3, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Alex Wong/Pool

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks during the closing news conference at a meeting of defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Honolulu, Hawaii, April 3, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Alex Wong/Pool

The United States is scrapping plans for a Navy ship to join a fleet review in China after key ally, Japan, was not invited, U.S. officials said on Thursday, in a move that came just ahead of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s trip to Japan and China.

The United States had been invited to participate in the fleet review – essentially a parade of ships – as part of activities linked to the Western Pacific Naval Symposium, which is being held this month in Qingdao, an eastern port city.

The United States will still participate in the naval symposium and will observe the review, one official said.

“We’re not going to put a ship in the actual parade. We’ll observe the parade,” the U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding the decision was taken last week and came after a request by ally Japan.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a news conference on Friday that Japan would take part in the regularly held naval symposium but confirmed that it had not been invited to the fleet review.

“Japan is responding calmly but it is unfortunate that China took such approach,” he said.

The U.S. decision was another sign of troubled Sino-Japanese ties, chilled by a territorial dispute over a group of East China Sea islets.

It also shows the tricky balancing act facing Hagel over the next week as he moves to reassure Tokyo of Washington’s commitment to its security while seeking better ties with Beijing. Hagel leaves on Friday on a trip to Japan, China and Mongolia.

China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors were front and center for Hagel as he hosted talks in Hawaii with defense ministers from Southeast Asian nations, grappling with assertive Chinese military moves in the South China Sea.

“I told the ministers that the United States is increasingly concerned about the instability arising from the territorial disputes in the South China Sea,” Hagel said at a news conference, calling for all sides to avoid resorting to the “threat of force, or intimidation, or coercion.”

The U.S. State Department has accused China’s coastguard of harassment of Philippine vessels and called its attempt on Saturday to block a Philippine resupply mission to the Second Thomas Shoal, a disputed atoll, provocative and destabilizing.

Earlier on Thursday, Daniel Russel, President Barack Obama’s diplomatic point man for East Asia, said that while the United States did not take a position on rival territorial claims in East Asia, China should be in no doubt about Washington’s resolve to defend its allies if necessary.

Hagel said he would speak candidly and directly with officials from China when he travels to Beijing next week and would encourage “responsible behavior.”

“The South China Sea, East China Sea – we have differences there. We talk about those differences,” Hagel said as he wrapped up three days of informal talks with ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The ASEAN meeting as well as other steps to enhance the U.S. military’s posture in the Asia-Pacific have been viewed suspiciously by Beijing, which is hiking military spending. But Hagel rejected the idea that such moves were to counter China.

“This visit was not a visit to contain China,” Hagel said.

“This area represents tremendous opportunities. The three largest economies in the world are here in the Asia-Pacific – China, Japan and the United States.”

Hagel said he would encourage China to follow international norms and looked forward to a chance to “sit down, close the door, and talk very clearly and directly to our friends.”

“And I consider the Chinese as friends. We have differences. We are competitors. We disagree in areas. But we’re certainly not enemies,” Hagel said. “We’re doing a lot of things together where we can find some common interests.”

U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines from April 22.

Source: Reuters “U.S. to skip China fleet review after Japan shunned”

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South Korea, China condemn Japan over textbooks in latest fight


A set of remote islands called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese is seen in this picture taken from a helicopter carrying South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (not pictured), east of Seoul August 10, 2012.  Credit: Reuters/The Blue House/Handout

A set of remote islands called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese is seen in this picture taken from a helicopter carrying South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (not pictured), east of Seoul August 10, 2012.
Credit: Reuters/The Blue House/Handout

South Korea and China on Friday condemned new Japanese textbooks that say that islands at the centre of separate territorial disputes belong to Japan, the latest in a series of disputes between Tokyo and neighbors Seoul and Beijing.

The elementary school textbooks describe islands called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese as Japan’s “sovereign territory” and say South Korean occupation is unlawful.

The books also say China’s claims to islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyus in China in the East China Sea are unfounded.

South Korean First Vice Minister Cho Tae-yong called in Japan’s ambassador to Seoul to protest and the ministry warned of worsening ties.

“If (Japanese) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who declared just three weeks ago he stands by the ‘Kono Statement’ now tries to conduct education for elementary school children that distorts and hides its history of colonial invasion, he is not only breaking his own promise but also committing the mistake of isolating its next generation from international society,” the ministry said.

The statement refers to an apology made by former cabinet secretary Yohei Kono in 1993 which recognized the Japanese government involvement in taking women, mostly Korean, to work in military brothels as sex slaves during the war.

Both China and Korea suffered under Japanese rule, with parts of China occupied in the 1930s and Korea colonized from 1910 to 1945.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Japan had to take a “sincere attitude” towards facing up to history.

“Japan should teach its next generation in these textbooks that the Diaoyus are China’s, and that Japan has illegally snatched them away,” he told a daily news briefing.

Hong added that China was also highly concerned about a Japanese Foreign Ministry policy paper, which also claimed the islands as Japan’s and said China was trying to change the status quo with force.

“It neglects the facts, wantonly blackens China’s name and unreasonably criticizes China. We are extremely concerned and very dissatisfied,” he said.

Japan’s ties with South Korea and China have long been poisoned by what Beijing and Seoul consider Tokyo’s failure to atone for its wartime past.

Anger has mounted over the past year after Abe’s visit to a controversial Tokyo shrine honoring war criminals among Japan’s war dead.

Tokyo had worked hard to ease tension with Seoul last month under pressure from Washington to improve ties and drew a concession from South Korean President Park Geun-hye who agreed to sit down for a meeting with Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a security summit in the Hague.

Source: Reuters “South Korea, China condemn Japan over textbooks in latest fight”

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