TOKYO , April 23 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama, in an interview prior to his visit to Japan, said a bilateral defense treaty covers islands contested by China and Japan and that it supports Japanese claims.
He arrived in Tokyo Wednesday, the first stop on his seven-day trip that will include visits to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. China is not on the itinerary but is expected to be a major topic of discussion with heads of state. The trip is an opportunity to reinforce the importance the United States places on Asia, former Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley told the BBC.
“Many traditional allies…(also) value a strong U.S. presence in the region to balance an assertive China,” he said. The visit comes at a “period of significant tension among American allies, and between American allies and China.”
Islands in the East China Sea, administered by Japan but contested by China, are a source of tension. Prior to the visit, Obama said in a written response to a Tokyo newspaper the islands “fall within the scope” of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.”
While Japan relies on the United States for its security, both sides have expressed interest in Japan taking on greater responsibility for its own defense.