Three Chinese warships sailed within Japan’s territorial waters, just 12 miles off the coast of islands in the East China Sea that Defense Secretary James Mattis has vowed to defend. This latest display of saber-rattling came just two days after Mattis made his first overseas trip to Japan as Defense Secretary.
Both the Chinese and Japanese have claimed the Senkauks islands as their own. Japan laid claim to the islands as early as the late 19th-century while the Chinese first claimed the islands at the end of WWII. They make up just one of many contested areas in the East and South China seas.
During his first overseas trip to Japan, Mattis accused China of “shredding the trust” of nearby countries through the building of man-made islands in the South China Sea. He then went on to reiterate America’s dedication to defending Japan and the Senkauks Islands.
“I made clear that our long-standing policy on the Senkaku Islands stands. The U.S. will continue to recognize Japanese administration of the islands,” Mattis said. “As such, Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty applies.”
Article 5 commits the U.S. to defend Japan or its territories if attacked.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang responded by saying China wishes the U.S. would stop making things more complicated.
“We urge the U.S. side to take a responsible attitude, stop making wrong remarks… and avoid making the issue more complicated and bringing instability to the regional situation,” she said.
In 2016, Chinese ships intruded in Japanese waters at least 34 times. It’s likely that Chinese ships will continue to invade Japanese waters, despite Mattis’ calling for all regional disputes over territory to be handled peacefully.
Mattis is one of many members of the Trump administration to vow to prevent China from claiming areas of the South and East China seas as their own. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, also made the intentions of the United States in contested waters very clear.
“We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed,” Tillerson said.