The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Thursday said that the United States is closely monitoring growing tensions between China and Japan while voicing strong U.S. support for Japan.
“We’re watching … that tension very, very carefully, and certainly our commitment to the region remains,” Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters.
“And, you know, we’re hopeful that the political and diplomatic efforts would reduce that tension specifically, and haven’t seen anything that would, I guess, raise the alarm levels higher than that.”
Adm. Mullen added that “obviously, we’re very, very strongly in support of, you know, our ally in that region, Japan.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, appearing with Adm. Mullen, also stated that the United States will “fulfill our alliance responsibilities” toward Japan.
The China-Japan tension escalated following a Sept. 7 incident involving a Chinese fishing boat that was ordered out of waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands. The boat responded by ramming two Japanese patrol boats, and its captain and crew were detained and an investigation launched. The 14 crew members were eventually released but the captain, Zhan Qixiong, remains in custody.
In New York, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed the China-Japan dispute during a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and urged both sides to pursue dialogue, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
Mr. Crowley said Mr. Maehara “indicated that Japan was working this in accordance with both its legal process and international law.”
Mrs. Clinton told the Japanese minister that she hopes “the issue can be resolved soon, since relations between Japan and China are vitally important to regional stability,” Mr. Crowley said.
“Neither side wants to see the situation escalate to the point where it has long-term regional impact,” Mr. Crowley said.
The Senkaku Islands are in the western Pacific, south of Okinawa and north of Taiwan.
China and Taiwan both claim the chain of uninhabited islands as their own, and the dispute over the detained fishing captain has renewed China-Japan differences that date back to World War II.
China’s government issued several diplomatic protest notes and canceled a visit to Japan by a senior government official. Beijing also suspended plans to resume talks with Japan on disputed undersea natural-gas fields.
According to Japanese officials, nationalist sentiment in China has resulted in several incidents of anti-Japanese violence in China, including the breaking of windows at a Japanese school in Beijing.
Adm. Mullen’s comments followed statements earlier this week by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao threatening unspecified action against Japan over the ship captain’s detention.
The New York Times, quoting industry sources in Hong Kong, reported on Wednesday that Chinese customs officials have halted shipments to Japan of rare-earth minerals used in the high-technology industry, such as producing aircraft parts. The move was in retaliation for the dispute over the detained fishing captain.
China’s government denied that it has cut off the mineral exports.
Meanwhile, White House National Security Council official Jeffrey Bader announced in New York that Chinese President Hu Jintao would visit the United States in January.
The announcement of the visit comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and China over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and U.S. worries over China’s growing assertiveness over international waters in the South China Sea, that are said to contain large deposits of natural resources.
In other developments, China said on Thursday it is investigating four Japanese nationals who authorities say were filming sensitive military facilities, state media reported.
The Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday that “four Japanese are being investigated for having entered a military zone without authorization and illegally videotaped military targets in northern Heibei province.”
The Washington Times disclosed last week a classified 1969 Chinese government map, showing that the disputed islands were territory belonging to Japan and it used the name Senkakus, instead of the Chinese name for the islands, Daioyu.
The map undermines official Chinese government claims that the islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times.