While Washington has elevated its security commitment to Japan during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, observers noted that the White House has avoided going too far in aligning with Japan’s plans to contain China.
Still, China should be prepared politically and militarily because some of the US security pledges made to Abe will harm its core interests, including its sovereignty rights and stability in its neighborhood, analysts said.
Reinforcing the US-Japan security alliance was a key reason for Abe’s visit to the United States from Thursday to Monday.
After Abe met with US President Donald Trump on Friday at the White House, they flew to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, aboard Air Force One for more talks and a round of golf Saturday in West Palm Beach, AFP reported.
A US-Japan joint statement released after their talk in Washington addressed most of China’s regional security concerns – the Korean Peninsula, the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
The document is considered the highest-level written affirmation that Article 5 of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security covers China’s Diaoyu Islands, which means the US military could come to Japan’s aid in case of any attack, analysts said.
Washington’s stance that Article 5 applies to the islands has been mostly verbal.
Yet Trump toned down the hostility toward China at his joint news conference with Abe.
Trump noted that his long and “warm” talk with President Xi Jinping on Friday was good for Tokyo, too.
Before meeting with Abe, Trump and Xi spoke via telephone. Trump affirmed the US pledge to honor the one-China policy, and Xi and Trump talked about further two-way cooperation.
“I believe that will all work out very well for everybody, China, Japan, the United States and everybody in the region,” Trump said, according to the Associated Press.
Liang Yunxiang, a professor in Japan studies at Peking University, said that while the US-Japan joint statement touched on China’s key security concerns, Trump has his own view of China.
Trump reminded Abe of the importance of US-China ties “to show that the US also plays the role of balancer in overseas issues, and that Japan should not casually aggravate China,” Liang said.
“Trump does not plan on a full-scale confrontation with China as Abe expects. Infuriating Beijing does not do the US any good,” Liang said.
Lyu Yaodong, a senior researcher on Japanese diplomacy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the security pledges made at this trip “goes further” in damaging China’s core interests because the joint pact represents a distancing from the de facto US policy of not taking a firm position on the Diaoyu Islands issue.
Beijing should react diplomatically no matter how Trump tried at his press conference with Abe to smooth over the reinforcement of US containment against China, Lyu said.
“Trump has been clearly aware of Japan’s role as a troublemaker … and he just has a different strategy about containing China. “He is not allowing Abe to set the agenda,” Lyu added.
Su Xiaohui, a researcher on international strategy at the China Institute of International Studies, said Japan is keen to stir South China Sea controversy and to try to get the US involved because the tension there has cooled, and China has a good handle on the situation in the East China Sea.
Liang forecast that the security situation at China’s doorstep may worsen this year because Trump “shows no signs of retreating” from the Western Pacific, “and he may be even bolder on issues such as the South China Sea”.
“Although a major conflict is unlikely, small frictions cannot be ruled out”, which compels Beijing to boost its readiness, Liang said.