US president barack obama may have congratulated himself in private for apparently pulling off a difficult balancing act, but if so, he is being a little too hasty.
He offered his anxious Japanese host the reassurance Tokyo was so desperately begging for: The confirmation that the territory it stole is covered by the US-Japan security treaty.
Then, so as not to infuriate the attentive owner next door, he stated that this "is not a new position", nor one of his making, as the US-Japan treaty preceded his birth, and he reconfirmed that Washington takes no sides in the sovereignty dispute over the islands.
However, swaying to and fro on the tightrope he was walking, Obama's balancing act was lopsided at best, because it was conspicuously biased in favor of the troublemaking Japanese prime minister.
By deliberately ignoring the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Proclamation, and the terms of surrender Japan agreed to at the end of World War II, Obama has betrayed the postwar international order and endorsed Japan's de facto control over the Diaoyu Islands, which should have been returned to China under the terms of these legally binding agreements.
Extending the US-Japan security treaty to those islands is both morally and legally wrong.
Obama should not expect Chinese connivance in his turning a blind eye to Japan's thievery and its claims of innocence.
It was the Japanese government that unilaterally changed the status quo. The dispute over the Diaoyu Islands had cooled down until Japan poured kerosene on it and set a match to it by "nationalizing" the main islands.
Obama's praise of "Japan's long-standing commitment to international peace and security" is grating on the ear - and not just to China - because he once again chose to ignore the elephant in the room, saying nothing about Japan's denial of its militarist past and rightist present. By tacitly endorsing Japan's actions, he is giving Shinzo Abe carte blanche to continue destabilizing the region.
That Obama has cast aside the strategic ambiguity others have tried hard to preserve may be good in one sense - it helps to relieve some of the wishful thinking that Washington doesn't condone the antics of Japan's right-wingers.
But since he has voluntarily bound his country to Abe's war chariot, instead of breathing a sigh of relief that he has completed his balancing act, he might want to start considering how he is going to untie the knots and tame the adventurous Japan under Abe, or prepare to be dragged into an unwanted conflict.
Diaoyu Islands vow 'may backfire'
The PLA is fully capable of safeguarding China's Diaoyu Islands, says spokesman
US President Barack Obama's promise of military cover for Japan's claim on the Diaoyu Islands faces the potential of backfiring, observers said.
Obama stated in a press conference in Tokyo on Thursday that the US-Japan mutual security treaty covers China's Diaoyu Islands.
"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."
The forthright remarks from Obama are widely interpreted as a display of Washington's strong commitment to its Asian allies designed to dispel suspicion of weakening US clout in the region.
Obama is on a four-nation tour that was postponed seven months ago because of the US government shutdown. He faced flak at the time for postponing the trip, both in the US and overseas, amid criticism that the US was preoccupied with domestic affairs at the expense of its international commitments.
Responding to Obama's comments, Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said that the Chinese army will continue military patrols in "relevant waters" in the East China Sea.
The Chinese military is "fully capable of safeguarding the Diaoyu Islands, and it is unnecessary for other nations to go to extreme lengths to provide a so-called security guarantee," Yang said, adding that China will firmly safeguard territorial sovereignty in the face of provocation from Japan.
Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said Obama's remarks may lead to unforeseen problems because the military commitment — directly naming specific islands — could "sabotage US strategic initiatives in the region" and undermine its strategic flexibility.
"As a result, Tokyo is keeping Washington in check in this regard, and, honestly, the ruling Japanese cabinet is very unpredictable," Ruan said.
Ruan noted that Obama's remarks about the islands "also harm the credibility of the US", because instead of taking an honest broker's viewpoint the US is firmly backing one side and this has the potential to cause problems.
With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe beside him, Obama told reporters that he had not drawn any new "red line" over the islands, and he emphasized the need to resolve maritime disputes peacefully.
"The treaty between the US and Japan preceded my birth, so, obviously, this isn't a red line that I'm drawing," Obama said. Li Haidong, a researcher of US studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said Obama's visit to Japan aimed to boost Japan's status as a "pillar" of Asia-Pacific security and as a key player in containing China.
But, Li said, the two allies have different agendas.
"The US seeks stability in the big picture of its relationship with China, yet Japan is not afraid of fanning the flames of a conflict with China," Li said.
The US-Japan defense treaty requires Washington to come to Japan's defense if it is attacked.
Experts said Washington believes that backing Tokyo will have long-term benefits.
Lyu Yaodong, an expert on Japanese diplomacy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Obama is "determined to see tangible progress in his rebalancing strategy" during his Asian trip, and "to achieve this goal, satisfying demands from Japan regarding the islands is necessary".
Abe told reporters on Thursday that "the Japan-US alliance is more robust than ever before."
"The US pivot cannot succeed without strong support from important allies such as Japan," Lyu said.
Ruan noted a shift in the US-Japan military relationship, and one example is that the US is "outsourcing" more defense duties to Japan.
"Washington believes that its promise on the islands is a feasible way to strengthen its influence over Japan, and accordingly Washington wants Japan's self-defense forces to play a greater role, which is very dangerous," Ruan said.
Yang, the Defense Ministry spokesman, also confirmed what Chinese Navy Commander Wu Shengli said on Wednesday about a worst-case scenario.
Wu told reporters on the sidelines of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium that the possibility of a military conflict remains between China and Japan, and the priority is to "prevent the outbreak of a conflict".
Yang also said the PLA 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 from the Diaoyu Islands, marks Japan's first military expansion at the western end of its island chain in more than 40 years.
"We are paying close attention to Japan's military trends," he said.
"China's military will continue to carry out battle readiness patrols, military drills and other activities in the area," Yang said.
- By Zhang Yunbi, China Daily
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