The Senate last week unanimously passed an amendment to the 2013 Defense Authorization Bill that commits the United States to defend Japan should the Senkaku Islands come under attack by a third country – a reference to China.
"While the United States takes no position on the ultimate sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, the United States acknowledges the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands," the legislation states.
"The unilateral actions of a third party will not affect United States acknowledgement of the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands."
The amendment was sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, Vietnam combat veteran and former Navy secretary under PresidentReagan.
The wording of the amendment is mild but firm.
"The peaceful settlement of territorial and jurisdictional disputes in the East China Sea requires the exercise of self-restraint by all parties in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and destabilize the region, and differences should be handled in a constructive manner consistent with universally recognized principles of customary international law," the legislation states.
In announcing the amendment, Mr. Webb minced no words about its purpose: "Over the past several years, China has taken increasingly aggressive actions to assert its claim over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and in a broad expanse of the South China Sea."
The Chinese government was unusually quiet about the legislation.
The sole Chinese response was a routine editorial from official media immediately following its passage. It said the amendment would backfire and ultimately prove "unwise."
However, there is little expectation of surprise about the amendment. Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty says: "Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provision and processes."
S. AFRICA ANGERS CHINA
China's government spokesman last week launched verbal salvos against the South African Supreme Court for overturning South Africa's decision to reject a visa application from the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama.
"China resolutely opposes Dalai in any capacity and for any reasons to visit any country in the world to conduct activities [aimed] at splitting China," spokesman Hong Lei said.
In August, Archbishop Desmond Tutu invited his fellow Nobel laureate and friend the Dalai Lama to travel to South Africa to celebrate his 80th birthday.
China immediately used its diplomatic and economic muscle to pressure the Pretoria government to reject the Dalai Lama's visa application. The South African government caved in to Chinese pressure but was too embarrassed to publicize the decision.
Opposition in the South African parliament formed a united front in condemning the government's decision and appealed to the court. A lower court affirmed the government's decision, but it was appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the opposition.
Archbishop Tutu expressed jubilation and said maybe he will invite the Dalai Lama for his 90th birthday. The lawmakers, however, urged an earlier invitation for the Buddhist leader.
China has become South Africa's largest trading partner, and there are many Chinese investments in South Africa as well. Last year, with China's help, South Africa was allowed to become a member of a group of the largest developing countries, known as the BRIC – Brazil, Russia, India and China.
However, bilateral trade is severely imbalanced, and China is accused by many South Africans of neocolonialism.
"This trade pattern is unsustainable in the long term," South African President Jacob Zuma told his Chinese hosts at a July conference in Beijing on Africa-China trade. "Africa's past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other economies."
• Miles Yu's column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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