President Barack Obama - for the first time as an incumbent US president - clearly stated the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture are subject to Article 5 of the Japan-US Security Treaty, in a written reply to questions submitted by The Yomiuri Shimbun.
"The policy of the United States is clear-the Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of Article 5 of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. And we oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of these islands," the US leader stated ahead of his visit to Japan starting Wednesday.
Article 5 stipulates US defence obligations to Japan, which apply to territories under the administration of Japan. Obama's comment therefore means the United States will defend Japan in the event of a Chinese incursion on the islets, over which China also claims sovereignty.
Mentioning "mutual interest" between the United States and China, Obama said his country will "deal directly and candidly" with China over differences on such issues. He also stressed that maritime issues should be handled constructively. "Disputes need to be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, not intimidation and coercion," the president said.
The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to revise the government's interpretation of the Constitution, which prohibits the nation from exercising the right to collective self-defence. Obama said he has "enthusiastically welcomed Japan's desire to play a greater role in upholding international security."
"I commend Prime Minister Abe for his efforts to strengthen Japan's defence forces and to deepen the coordination between our militaries, including by reviewing existing limits on the exercise of collective self-defence," the president said, requesting the Self-Defence Forces "do more within the framework of our alliance."
Obama's four-nation Asia tour aims to reassure the countries involved of his continuous commitment to and US presence in the region. Describing the alliance as "stronger than ever," Obama hailed Japan's role as he said, "The world is better off because of Japan's long-standing commitment to international peace and security."