Richard Armitage, the U.S.’s former Deputy Secretary of State, stated in a recent interview that while the country hasn’t voiced an opinion on whether Japan or China has the stronger claim to the disputed Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands, that doesn’t mean it’s neutral. The U.S. official was speaking about his late-October trip to Beijing and Tokyo where he and a delegation addressed concerns over the increasing tensions between the two Asian superpowers.
Armitage says there were clearly misunderstandings in Beijing over the fact that the U.S. had not clearly taken a side on the sovereignty of the disputed territory. Referring to Japan, the diplomat said that the U.S. is not neutral when one of its allies is being coerced, intimidated, or the victim of aggression. Armitage further pointed out that the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty implies that the U.S. has a responsibility for defending the Senkakus, and that hardly makes the country neutral.
It seems apparent that Armitage was making the point that U.S. hasn’t stated a clear opinion in an effort to avoid further fanning the flames between China and Japan, but if push came to shove, it would be clear who they stand with. Ever since that late-October visit, heads have started to cool, with both countries’ leaders agreeing to stay in communication. Armitage feels that the lowering of temperatures and rhetoric is certainly helpful, but a more permanent solution will have to wait until next year, after Japan’s prime minister elections in December and China’s leadership change in March.