Sep 17, 2012

Panetta Warns of War Between China and Japan Over Disputed Islands

By Patrick Goodenough
The disputed islands are seen in the lower left corner of the map

( – Exchanging warnings but avoiding confrontations thus far, Chinese and Japanese ships have come within less than half a nautical mile of each other in an ongoing dispute over the sovereignty of contested islands.

Amid deepening tensions in a long-running saga over the uninhabited islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Sunday about the possibility of war between the two Asian countries.

“What we don't want is to have any kind of provocative behavior on the part of China or anybody else result in conflict,” he told reporters accompanying him on a trip that includes stops in Japan, China and New Zealand.

“My purpose will be to urge that they engage in the effort by the Asian nations to try to work out a format for resolving these issues,” he added, referring to a code of conduct developed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in a bid to manage unconnected territorial disputes between China and ASEAN members in the South China Sea.

Asked again about the concerns, Panetta said he was worried that “when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands, that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence and could result in conflict, and that conflict would then, you know, have the potential of expanding.”
Panetta Japan
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta meets with his Japanese counterpart Satoshi Morimoto, in Tokyo on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
“We’re going to face more of this, countries are searching for resources,” he added. “There’s going to be questions raised as to who has jurisdiction over these areas. There has got to be a peaceful way to resolve these issues.”

Any conflict between Japan and China could risk drawing in the United States.

Although the U.S. position is that is does not take sides in the territorial dispute the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has confirmed that the islands fall within the scope of article five of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security – an appraisal rejected by Beijing.

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