China on Thursday reacted sharply to U.S. President Barack Obama's stated commitment for the first time in public to defend Japan in the event of a conflict with Beijing over the Senkakus, a group of islands at the heart of a bitter dispute between the two Asian countries.
"We are firmly opposed to the inclusion of the Diaoyu Islands in the U.S.-Japan security treaty," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a press conference, referring to them by their Chinese name, hours after Obama had a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.
After the meeting, Obama, standing side-by-side with Abe, said that the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea fall under the scope of Washington's long-standing security treaty with Tokyo.
"We don't take a position on final sovereignty determinations with respect to Senkakus, but historically they have been administered by Japan and we do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally," Obama said. "What is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan."
Qin argued head-on for a different view, saying, "No matter what others say or do, it cannot change in the slightest the basic facts that the Diaoyu Islands are China's inherent territory."
He said the security treaty obliging the United States to defend Japan if attacked "cannot shake the will and determination of the Chinese government and people in safeguarding its national territorial sovereignty, and maritime interests and rights."
While pointing out again that the treaty was signed during the Cold War era, he said, "It should not be targeted against a third party and it should not infringe on China's territorial sovereignty."
With regard to the remarks made by Obama, China's Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told a press conference that the country's military is "fully capable of safeguarding" the islands.
China's state-run Xinhua News Agency, in its reports about the meeting, put greater focus on Obama's statement that the U.S. government takes no side on the sovereignty issue of the islands.
A commentary released by the news agency said that "it would be premature and simply naive of Tokyo to draw any convenient conclusions from the pledge and convince itself Washington will support it at any cost."
It warned about the possibility of Abe's government "misleading Obama's commitment."
"What is extremely dangerous is that Abe and his nationalistic government might be encouraged to challenge China's bottom line in territorial disputes in the belief that Obama's pledge is a shield that gives them immunity from all punishments," it said.