WASHINGTON — Chinese leaders avoided referring to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands as a core national interest during talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in September in an apparent attempt to avoid a diplomatic clash with Washington, U.S. State Department sources said Sunday.
In discussing territorial issues with Clinton in China, Premier Wen Jiabao did not make remarks suggesting the disputed islands, which China calls the Diaoyu, are part of its “core national interests,” a term Beijing uses to refer to key territories it is determined to hold onto or ultimately take control of, the sources said.
The talks with Clinton followed a meeting in Beijing in May in which Wen told Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that Japan should respect China’s core interests and major concerns — an apparent reference to the islets. They also took place after the United States made it clear that the islands fall within the scope of the U.S.-Japan security treaty, which would oblige Washington to support Japan if the islets came under attack.
The uninhabited islands in the East China Sea also were not referred to as a core interest in Clinton’s separate meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, the sources said.
While Beijing is not expected to soften its position on the row with Tokyo, it appears to be cautious about challenging Washington on security issues.
China described the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and surrounding waters as a core national interest in its economic and security dialogue with the United States in May 2010, when U.S. officials expressed concern over the territorial dispute. Clinton later asserted that Washington also has a “national interest” in the region.
The Spratly Islands are also claimed, in whole or in part, by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has placed greater importance on Asia in its security policy since. A U.S. defense strategy announced in January this year warned that China “will have the potential to affect the U.S. economy and our security in a variety of ways.”
Obama has urged Beijing to increase transparency with regard to its growing military presence.