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Washington claims neutrality over islands

By Pu Zhendong (China Daily)

08:30, May 03, 2013

Washington on Wednesday insisted that it maintains a neutral stance on the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, following a warning from the Chinese ambassador to the United States over the issue.

Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesman at the US State Department, said the US does not take a position on the sovereignty of the islands.

He called on all parties to manage their differences through peaceful means.

"The point is we urge all parties to avoid actions that could raise tensions or result in miscalculations that would undermine peace, security and economic growth in this vital part of the world, so we say that to both sides," he said.

Cui Tiankai, China's new ambassador to the US, told Washington not to "lift the rock off Japan only to let it drop on its own feet" on Tuesday.

Cui criticized the assurance given by US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to visiting Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera that the islands are under the administration of Japan and fall under US security treaty obligations.

Hagel said the US "opposes any unilateral or coercive action that seeks to undermine Japan's administrative control" over the Diaoyu Islands, and US General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, had conveyed the message to Beijing.

Cui said the Japanese side triggered and escalated tensions over the Diaoyu Islands, and Japan undertook unilateral or coercive action.

When asked repeatedly by reporters who the US thought was taking "unilateral and coercive action" to worsen the current stalemate, China or Japan, Ventrell avoided answering the question directly.

"My understanding is from the perception of both sides; they have concerns about actions the other side has taken," he said.

Chen Qi, an international affairs professor at Tsinghua University, said various recent statements from Beijing and Washington show that the two sides are testing the bottom line on their respective policies regarding the islands.

"It seems that China has stated its position clearly and firmly, but the US position remains ambiguous since it is taking its ally Japan's interests into consideration," Chen said.

But subtle differences in Washington's statements indicate that disagreements exist inside the White House and that many discussions must have been going on to adapt themselves to probably realigning their strategy, he added.

Analysts said that Washington, if it is serious about not taking any position on the Diaoyu Islands, should stop favoring Japan by including the islands in the protection obligations within the US-Japanese Security Treaty.

Jia Xiudong, a senior researcher on international affairs at the China Institute of International Studies, said Washington's intention to contain China will fail since nothing will deter China's defense of its sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. "The Obama administration attaches great importance to Sino-US relations as they responded positively to Beijing's new definition of bilateral ties as ‘a new type of big country relations' by sending high-level government officials to China soon after Beijing's leadership transition," Jia said.

"Building mutual trust depends on how the two sides manage to handle differences during the many opportunities for communication this year such as the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue in July," he added.

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