The large-scale anti-Japanese protests that swept across China over the weekend are likely to reach a crescendo today, as Sept. 18 marks the official Chinese anniversary of Japan’s invasion of China in 1931. The wave of public demonstrations was triggered by Tokyo’s announcement last week that it would purchase the disputed Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in China, from a private Japanese owner. The islands are claimed by China and Taiwan but controlled by Japan.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is on a week-long tour in Asia, and other American officials have expressed concern that the escalating dispute between Japan and China over the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea could easily lead to a confrontation through miscalculation or accident. Bilateral negotiations over the islands that began in 2004 have neither reconciled the two sides’ conflicting sovereignty and territorial claims nor established an agreed mechanism for joint exploitation of the energy reserves that lie within their overlapping maritime economic zones.
The Obama administration has said it would honor U.S. security commitments to Japan but not take sides in Tokyo’s territorial disputes, which also cover islands occupied by Russia and South Korea.