Obama: Senkakus 'within scope' of US-Japan treaty

USA - 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 U.S 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."

In regard to North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the US leader also clarified his position and declared, "We're going to stand firm in our insistence that a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable."

Describing the reclusive country's repeated missile launches and nuclear development programme as "a threat to our allies Japan and South Korea, a threat to the region, and increasingly a direct threat to the security of the United States," the president said, "The commitment of the United States to the security of Japan and South Korea will remain unwavering."

Regarding the planned relocation of the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture, Obama said the United States has been working on transferring the Futenma base to "a new facility," likely referring to the Henoko district.

The president also said the US Marine Corps' presence in the prefecture is "absolutely critical" to mutual security, reiterating his determination to further strengthen the unity of the Japan-US alliance.

Regarding the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, the progress of which is a major focus in the upcoming Japan-US summit meeting, the president said he is "absolutely convinced" that TPP as a whole will provide benefits for all countries involved.

"By reducing tariffs and other barriers, it would open more markets to our goods, boost our exports, and help make our businesses more competitive in the global economy," the president added.

On Sunday, The Yomiuri Shimbun, citing government sources, reported that Japan and the United States had agreed the tariff on imported US beef will be "9 per cent or more." As of Tuesday, the two-sides are continuing further discussions on the issue in detail at working-level negotiations.

Obama went on to hail Japan's participation in the TPP talks, in which the 12 participating countries failed to meet an initial goal to conclude the negotiations by the end of last year.

"All our nations will have to live up to our commitment to reaching a high-standard agreement and make important decisions, some of them difficult. It won't be easy," Obama said, reaffirming his determination to achieve results at an early stage.