What John Kerry is Doing Right and Wrong in East Asia (Page 2 of 2)

"I reiterated the principles that govern our consideration of the longstanding policy on the Senkaku Islands. The United States, as everybody knows, does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands. But we do recognize that they are under the administration of Japan. And we obviously want all the parties to deal with territorial issues through peaceful means. Any actions that could raise tensions or lead to miscalculations all affect the peace and the stability and the prosperity of an entire region. And so we oppose any unilateral or coercive action that would somehow aim at changing the status quo."

Mr. Kerry’s statement on this matter reflects the recommendations of a group of nine senators who wrote the Secretary on April 12, calling on him to reiterate the U.S. position on this important issue and state that the United States will oppose any attempt to coerce our ally Japan.  The letter was signed by Senators Marco Rubio, John Cornyn, James M. Inhofe, James E. Risch, Kelly Ayotte, Robert Corker, John Barrasso, Saxby Chambliss, and John McCain.

The senators’ letter also cited an amendment adopted by the Senate last year as a part of the deliberations on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. It is unfortunate, however, that although the Senate’s amendment was crafted by Democratic Senator Jim Webb and co-sponsored by Senator Joe Lieberman, no Democrats signed onto the Rubio letter on this issue.

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Although few Americans could find the Senkakus on a map, this is a standoff that risks sparking a conflict between the second and third largest economic powers in the world. The United States would not sit on the sidelines, but would intervene on Japan’s side, initiating a direct conflict between the world’s two strongest military powers.

It is essential that the United States clearly articulate its policy on this matter in order to prevent such a disaster, and kudos are due to both Kerry and the senators who urged his statement on this important matter.

Going forward, the Secretary should do more to roll back his suggestions that the United States may be willing to discard our missile defenses and live with a nuclear North Korea.  He should work to persuade China that it is in its own national interest to completely and verifiably dismantle North Korea’s destabilizing nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as argued by Senator Bob Corker in The Wall Street Journal. Hopefully, Mr. Kerry will describe such a strategy when he appears before Congress this week.

Christopher Griffin is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative. Robert Zarate is policy director, also at the Foreign Policy Initiative.

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