The US will respond with military force if allies in the Pacific region are threatened, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said on Tuesday in response to questions about Japan’s dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands.
Japan and China both claim ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, located east of China and south of Japan. US officials have been on Japan’s side, stating that Article 5 of the US-Japan Defense treaty created in 1951 lists the territory under Japan’s control.
During his talk at the Council on Foreign Relations, Work discussed defense strategies toward the Asia-Pacific region.
“While the Senkakus are under Japanese control, Article 5 applies, and we would respond if there was an attempt to take the Senkakus,” Work said. He later added, “We would definitely respond militarily to certainly any engagements against our allies.”
The Pentagon official called Japan the “cornerstone of our alliances in Asia.”
In 1997, Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Pentagon crafted defense guidelines on how the countries would cooperate in times of conflict. Japanese and US officials announced last year that they would revise the guidelines to close any “gaps” in collaboration.
US forces have recently poured into Japan as the country attempts to expand its defense posture. Work said that by 2020, the Navy and the Air Force will have stationed 60 percent of its forces in the Asia-Pacific region, a total of 100,000 troops, and that the department will continue to expand its reach regardless of the defense budget.
“That is what makes us the only true global power,” he said.
Work and others said Japan’s concerns about the potential for conflicts with China and North Korea have caused a shift in Japan’s military policy. While the country remains officially pacifist, US Marines have begun training Japanese soldiers to broaden the country’s military capacity. The government now asserts the right of “collective self-defense,” meaning Japan can come to the military aid of an ally who is threatened.