China and Japan looking to the U.S. on disputed islands

As China and Japan continue to wrangle over a chain of uninhabited islands that have sparked protests in both countries, near-miss naval incidents, and lots of tough words, diplomats from both Asian powers are increasingly emphasizing the United States’s role in the dispute.

The United States seems to be trying to stay as far away from the dispute as possible. But the fact that both China and Japan already seem to perceive the United States as implicitly involved, simply by virtue of it being the dominant Pacific military and diplomatic power, speaks to the difficulty America may face in navigating the coming Pacific century.

The official U.S. position on the islands — Diaoyu in Chinese, Senkaku in Japanese, claimed by both — is a bit contradictory. The State Department says it has no position and leaves it to China and Japan to decide, but also that, in the event of a military conflict over the island, America’s treaty with Japan would require it to take that country’s side.

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