While discussions centered primarily on talks about tensions with North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who met with Japan’s defense and foreign ministers today, vowed US defense commitments to Japan “without reservation.” Though this includes the “nuclear umbrella” with respect to North Korea, it also has other implications which are liable to have are greater impact on Japan’s other neighbors.
Tillerson insisted during a joint news conference he considered the defense treaty to include US military support for Japan’s claims to the Senkaku Islands. Japan insists the unoccupied islands belong to them, while China and Taiwan argue that they have claims to the islands dating back half a millennium.
This risks the US getting into a military conflict with China over the unoccupied islands, under which significant energy resources are believed to lie. Yet this is not the only territorial dispute Japan has, and while not asked directly, Tillerson’s commitment to defend Senkaku might also commit the US to support Japan’s claims on islands contested with South Korea and Russia as well.
The defensive commitment also presumably implies that US troops will remain in Japan in large numbers more or less indefinitely, a fact which is not likely to sit well in some parts of the country, particularly Okinawa, where the large amount of land taken by US bases has been a source of tensions.
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