Leon Panetta, US Defense Secretary, expressed his concerns over the escalating dispute between Japan and China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea Sunday.
“I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence and could result in conflict,” Panetta told reporters while traveling en route to Tokyo to begin a week-long Asia visit to Japan, China, and New Zealand.
Panetta is visiting the region as the United States is shifting its focus to the Pacific, including moving over its naval fleet, expanding it joint exercises with allies like South Korea, and deploying American troops to Australia and Southeast Asia, the Washington Times reported.
He is also hoping to ease tensions with Beijing as the US implements this new military strategy that appears in several ways to be a defense against China, the Los Angeles Times pointed out.
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"This is a relationship that has in the past been characterized by a lot of ups and downs and an on-again, off-again cycle that reflected the lack of a solid foundation ... sufficient to weather the type of turbulence that's natural in a relationship that's as broad and complex as the one that we have with China," a senior defense official said about US-Chinese relations, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands in Chinese) has intensified over the last week, as Japan said it was buying three of the resource-rich Islands from a private seller, and the Chinese responded by sending patrol ships to survey the area and launching anti-Japanese protests in Beijing and across the country.
"We're going to face more of this," Panetta said of the dispute, the Associated Press reported. "The countries are searching for resources, there (are) going to be questions raised as to who has jurisdiction over these areas."
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