China lashes out at Mattis’s remarks on East China Sea islands
Foreign Ministry says that by raising issue of disputed cluster of uninhabited outcrops, US is putting regional security at risk
The United States is putting regional stability in East Asia at risk, a Chinese spokesman said on Saturday following remarks by the new US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis that a US commitment to defend Japanese territory applied to an island group claimed by China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang called on the US to avoid discussion of the issue and reasserted China’s claim of sovereignty over the tiny Japanese-controlled but uninhabited islands known in Japan as the Senkakus and in Chinese as the Diaoyus.
The 1960 US-Japan treaty is “a product of the Cold War, which should not impair China’s territorial sovereignty and legitimate rights,” Lu was quoted as saying in a statement posted on the ministry’s website.
“We urge the US side to take a responsible attitude, stop making wrong remarks on the issue involving the Diaoyu islands’ sovereignty, and avoid making the issue more complicated and bringing instability to the regional situation,” Lu said.
On his first offical trip to Asia as secretary of defence, Mattis explicitly stated in Tokyo that the Donald Trump administration would abide by the previous US stance that the US-Japan security treaty applied to defending Japan’s continued administration of the Senkaku islands.
The islands that lie between Taiwan and Okinawa were under US administration from the end of World War II until their return to Japan in 1972. China cites historical records for its claim, and Japan’s move to nationalise several of the islands in 2012 set off anti-Japanese riots in China and prompted the government to dispatch ships and planes to the area around them as a challenge to Japanese control.
China also registered its displeasure with Mattis’ remarks on Friday in South Korea that Trump’s administration was committed to carrying through on a deal the Obama administration reached with the Seoul government last year to deploy a high-end US anti-missile defence system to South Korea this year.
The Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, is meant to improve protection of South Korea and Japan – as well as US troops stationed in both countries – against a North Korean missile attack.
Beijing objects to the system because its powerful radar would allow it to peer deep into northeastern China, possibly allowing it to observe Chinese military movements.
At a Friday news conference, Lu said China’s “resolute opposition to the deployment ... remains unchanged and will not change”.
The deployment “will jeopardise security and the strategic interests of regional countries, including China, and undermine the strategic balance in the region,” Lu said.
Chinese officials and scholars say they anticipate further turbulence in relations with the US under Trump. The president sparked anger among Chinese following his election when he broke with decades of protocol by talking on the phone with the president of Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy that Beijing considers its own territory.
Trump has also raised concerns with his criticism of China’s military buildup in the South China Sea, accusations of currency manipulation and unfair trade policies and allegations that Beijing was doing too little to pressure its communist neighbour North Korea.