US seeks larger role in islands dispute
Updated: 2012-09-26 02:01
By TAN YINGZI in Washington and ZHOU WA in Beijing (China Daily)
A senior United States defense official said on Monday that the US military could play a larger role in easing tensions between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands.
Kathleen Hicks, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said stability in the Asia-Pacific region could be achieved if the US military furthers ties with the region’s nations.
“We can be a stabilizing force, and we can provide a channel of communication that can help diffuse the situation,” she said in response to a question about the Pentagon’s role in China and Japan’s struggle over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.
Her remarks came after US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrapped up his trip to Japan, China and New Zealand on Sept 22. It was his first visit to China and third trip to Asia since taking the job in mid-2011.
Panetta, in the eyes of many analysts, was expected to serve as a mediator between China and Japan. Japan's reported “purchase” of the islands has triggered waves of highly publicized protests across China.
Panetta and the US government have reiterated that Washington will not take sides on this issue and have urged the two countries to solve the dispute peacefully.
Increased tensions between China and Japan are not in line with Washington’s interests in the Asia-Pacific region, but the US should also decrease China’s concern instead of only offering platitudes, analysts said.
The US doesn’t want to see the China-Japan tensions get out of control, so it will “mediate”, said Niu Jun, a professor of international affairs at Peking University.
“But the US should know that China does feel threatened by the US' increasing presence in the Asia-Pacific region, so the US should also do something practical to reduce China’s concerns,” he said.
Ruan Zongze, an expert on global studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said that it is not likely that the US will make any change in its Asia-Pacific policies.
The US will try to keep China-Japan tensions from escalating, but at the same time, it will continue to support Japan publicly and privately as always, Ruan added.
Although the US will not change its strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, it can at least do more to promote mutual understanding between the militaries from both sides, Niu said.
Military-to-military relations between China and the US, which have experienced both progress and a number of setbacks over the years, have currently been on a stable path.
The two militaries have increased communications and exchanges this year. Following the high-profile visit of Defense Minister Liang Guanglie in early May, Cai Yingting, deputy chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, met US military officials in August.
In Beijing, Panetta had candid discussions with several senior Chinese officials, including Vice-President Xi Jinping. He also visited the naval base at Qingdao, the home port of China’s North Sea Fleet.
Recent trips to the Asia-Pacific region by senior US officials, including a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month, have strengthened US alliances and partnerships, deepened working relationships with emerging powers, and strengthened multilateral institutions, Hicks said on Monday.
But these investments of time and resources are heavily influenced by the US' relationship with China, she added.
“The stability and prosperity of this region will be shaped by (the US and China’s) ability to work together,” Hicks said.
She revealed that next year, the US Defense Department will continue to work with allies in Northeast Asia. The department will continue to focus on Guam, a Pacific island territory of the US, as a strategic hub in the Western Pacific, and expand access to locations in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.
These initiatives include establishing marine, air and ground forces in Okinawa, Japan; Guam; Australia and Hawaii. The US plans to increase the rotational deployment of air force units in Australia and will pursue opportunities with the Philippines to rotate US forces to priority areas.
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