On Tuesday, the Pentagon warned China against sailing coast guard vessels near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The Senkakus, or Diaoyus as they are known in China, are Japanese-controlled uninhabited islands that are also claimed by China and Taiwan.
Chinese coast guard vessels entered waters near the Senkakus on Saturday and Sunday. “We would urge the Chinese to avoid actions, using their coast guard vessels, that could lead to miscalculation and potential physical … harm,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday when asked about the incidents.
Considering the US regularly sails warships near Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea, the Pentagon’s warning likely rings hollow to Beijing.
Kirby also said the US supports Japan’s “sovereignty” over the Senkakus. “We’ll continue to take steps to address the strategic challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China as we implement the National Defense Strategy,” he said.
The 2018 National Defense Strategy that the Trump administration crafted outlines the US military’s focus away from counterterrorism in the Middle East towards so-called “great power competition” with China and Russia.
Since coming into office, President Biden and his advisors have reaffirmed to Tokyo that the Senkaku Islands are covered under the security treaty between the US and Japan. This means if the Senkakus come under attack, Washington would treat it as an attack on US soil and come to Japan’s defense.
With the Biden administration prioritizing countering China, the US is expected to step up military cooperation with Japan and other countries in the region. The Senkakus will continue to be a sensitive flashpoint for Washington and Beijing.