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U.S. takes no particular position on Senkakus

The United States has consistently taken no particular position in principle on other countries’ territories and sovereignty. It does not go into specifics on Japan’s territorial rights to the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.


In their teleconference held in January, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden reaffirmed that Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which stipulates the U.S. military’s obligation to protect Japan, applies to the Senkakus. Since the time of the Obama administration, the two governments have ensured that they are on the same page on this matter.


At the two-plus-two ministerial meeting of defense and foreign affairs chiefs held on March 16, the leaders again discussed the “U.S.’s unwavering commitment.”


Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty stipulates that the two nations would launch a joint response in the event Japan-administered territories come under armed attack. While the U.S. says that [Article 5] applies to the Japan-administered Senkakus, it does not explicitly state that the Senkakus are part of Japan’s territory.


In late February, U.S. Defense Department spokesman John Kirby went so far as to say that the U.S. “supports Japan’s sovereignty” over the Senkakus. Later he said that there has been “no change to U.S. policy.” He adjusted his earlier statement by saying that the U.S. maintains its traditional view.


The Japanese government explains that “there is no territorial issue that needs to be addressed” in the case of the Senkakus. On the other hand, China unilaterally claims its territorial rights, repeatedly sending government ships to Japan’s territorial waters around the outcrops.


Of Japanese territories whose sovereignty is under contention, the only one the U.S. has explicitly said belongs to Japan is the Northern Territories. The memorandum of understanding issued by the U.S. Department of State ahead of the 1956 Japan-Soviet joint declaration says: the “islands of Etorofu and Kunashiri (along with the Habomai Islands and Shikotan which are a part of Hokkaido) have always been an integral part of Japan proper.”


The U.S. does not take a particular position on Japan’s territorial right to ROK-controlled Takeshima in Shimane Prefecture, either. (Abridged)

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