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US must clearly back Japan in islands dispute with China (+ video)

America rightly wants good relations with Japan and China. But sometimes one has to take sides, and the islands dispute between these two Asian powers is such a time. The US must avoid ambiguity and side more publicly with its democratic ally, Japan, and against bullying by China.

Commentary: Harvard Kennedy School Professor Anthony Saich explores the future of US-Chinese relations.
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The United States might prefer that the territorial dispute between China and Japan over uninhabited islands simply go away. America, after all, has enough of its own problems to fix. And it’s loathe to meddle in a fight between two of its most important trading partners – countries still grappling with their war-time history.

While the recent flare-ups over their rival claims to islands in the East China Sea may temporarily die down, the underlying causes will not be resolved anytime soon. The dispute also has the potential to escalate into a tempest that threatens the region – and in turn, America’s security.

America rightly wants good relations with both Japan and China. However, sometimes one has to take sides. Intentional ambiguity can be useful in foreign affairs, but not here.

The US, then, should take this moment to ensure its position avoids any ambiguity toward the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. It should stand far more publicly with its democratic ally, Japan, and against the bullying tactics being applied by China. Asian countries are closely watching.

True, Japan has ongoing territorial disputes with South Korea and Russia. But Japan has not used or threatened force, or applied economic pressure to retrieve what it considers Japanese territory.

Chinese behavior in the last two years starkly differs. Chinese patrol boats continue a cat-and-mouse game of harassment near the Senkakus. Beijing has encouraged and apparently fomented rioting against Japanese interests in China. And it has threatened and carried out economic retaliation against Japan. Chinese officials and media have made crudely aggressive and derogatory statements toward Japan and Japanese people.

China’s trotting out of Japanese behavior from nearly eight decades ago to inflame the public is cynical demagoguery. Demonization, as a government policy, is often a diversionary tactic to cover weaknesses within a regime. The world has seen too much of this in the last 20 years, and in simple terms, this is not how civilized nations behave.


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