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Japan secures Tillerson’s assurance on Senkaku Islands

By Ken Moriyasu, Nikkei deputy editor


TOKYO — In an early morning phone call with the top diplomat of the Donald Trump administration on Tuesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida secured an assurance that there has been no change in the U.S. commitment to defend the Senkaku Islands, if any party were to challenge Japan’s administration of the islands in the East China Sea.


During the 15-minute call, their first, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: “The Senkaku Islands are territories administered by Japan and fall under Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty,” according to Kishida, who briefed the media after the conversation. Tillerson went on to say: “The U.S. opposes any unilateral action to try to compromise Japan’s administration of the Senkakus,” Kishida said.


Kishida told his U.S. counterpart that “Strong U.S. leadership is necessary for global peace and prosperity in the 21st century. The Japan-U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of regional peace and prosperity.”


“We have gotten off to a good start,” Kishida told reporters, noting that they had agreed to call each other “Fumio” and “Rex” from now on. “It is encouraging that both foreign and defense authorities of the U.S. clearly stated their uniform position” on the islands, Kishida said, referring to a similar statement made by Defense Secretary James Mattis during his recent visit to Tokyo.


China claims the islands and calls them the Diaoyu.


Kishida and Tillerson agreed to meet at the earliest convenient time. “My impression is that Secretary Tillerson is very sincere, and he understands well the importance of the Asia-Pacific and the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Kishida said after the call.


Looking ahead to that first meeting, Kishida said: “It is most important to build a personal relationship that will be a foundation for forming trust.”

Kishida also said the two had exchanged views on regional affairs, including North Korea, during the phone call.


The conversation took place ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s planned meeting with Trump in Washington on Friday. Kishida is expected to accompany Abe to the summit.

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