Japan's new ambassador to the United States said the U.S. government cannot be neutral over the Senkaku Islands, although Washington says it does not take sides in the dispute between Japan and China.
"The U.S. government has made it clear that the islands are covered by the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty," Kenichiro Sasae told The Asahi Shimbun on Oct. 30. "Its stance cannot be neutral if it is to respond firmly in the event of use of force or provocation."
Sasae, 61, was vice foreign minister, the Foreign Ministry's top bureaucrat, when the government decided to nationalize the islands in September. He will move to Washington as ambassador in mid-November.
The Senkaku Islands, in the East China Sea, are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan. Known as Diaoyu in China, they have been at the center of the ongoing feud between Japan and China.
Sasae also said the Japanese government received no objection when it informed the United States that it was seeking to buy some of the islands from their private Japanese owner beforehand.
"The United States did not raise any opposition (to the move)," he said. "(The U.S. stance) was that it is a matter for Japan to decide."
He also defended the Japanese government's purchase as "the best" decision to administer the islands "in a peaceful and stable manner," rather than allowing the Tokyo metropolitan government to acquire them.
At the time, the metropolitan government was led by nationalist Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who announced a plan to buy the islets in April.
But the Japanese central government's purchase triggered fierce anti-Japan demonstrations across China in September, creating a strain in bilateral relations that has yet to be resolved.
Sasae said the Chinese government had not shown understanding for the intention behind Japan's planned purchase when they communicated with each other over the matter.
In addition, the new ambassador stressed the need for a Japan-U.S. summit after the U.S. presidential election in November to fine-tune their strategies as allies over how to spread the value of democracy and market economy in the Asia-Pacific region.
"It is important to recognize afresh each other's role as allies in the changing global and Asian landscape and make a new Japan-U.S. relationship a starting point to cope with challenges together," he said.
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