Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Joe Biden assured him that the mutual defense treaty between the US and Japan applies to the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea at the center of a maritime dispute between Tokyo and Beijing.
Biden called Suga late Wednesday night, as well as the leaders of South Korea and Australia, and discussed maintaining a “secure” Indo-Pacific region with each of them.
“The President-elect underscored his deep commitment to the defense of Japan and US commitments under Article V, and he expressed his strong desire to strengthen the US-Japan alliance even further in new areas,” Biden’s transition team said in a statement on the call.
Suga went further and explicitly said that Biden gave a “commitment that Article V of the US-Japan security treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands.” Biden’s commitment echoes a statement from President Obama, who said in 2014 that the US is obligated to come to Japan’s defense in the event of a conflict with China over the disputed islands.
The Senkakus, known as the Diaoyus in China, and the Tiaoyutais in Taiwan, another claimant, are currently administered by Japan. Chinese coast guard vessels recently entered waters near the Senkakus, something Japan strongly objected to.
In October, the US and Japan held massive military exercises known as Keen Sword 21 in waters near Japan. At the start of the drills, the head of US forces in Japan said US troops could be deployed to defend the Senkakus.
“Our arrival today was simply to demonstrate the ability to move a few people but the same capability could be used to deploy combat troops to defend the Senkaku Islands or respond to other crisis and contingencies,” Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider said.
The East China Sea is just one maritime dispute between China and its neighbors that the US is involved in. The US regularly sails warships and flies planes in the South China Sea to challenge China’s claims to islands in the waters. Biden is not expected to soften the US stance on the South China Sea, as the policy was started under the Obama administration.