Ever since the rightists in Japan took to raising trouble by purchasing the Diaoyu Islands, the Obama administration has never had a real sense of the risks lurking in the Japanese provocation. Some US officials have even retreated from their established policy stand to openly say that China’s Diaoyu Islands fall under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan.
At a press conference on July 9, a US State Department spokesperson explained that Article V of the treaty applies to the Diaoyu Islands. Regretfully, the US Senate decided on November 30 to add a supplementary clause to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, explicitly specifying the application of Article V to the Diaoyu Islands, marking the first time China’s Diaoyu Islands were covered in the United States’ domestic legislation. On January 3, 2013, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. A far retreat from its position on the Diaoyu Islands issue, these acts by the US will not only indulge the Japanese rightists in their moves on the Diaoyu Islands, but also add a new obstacle to the improvement of Sino-US relations.
On June 17, 1971, the day when the United States and Japan signed the Okinawa Reversion Agreement, US State Department spokesman Bray made his point on the ownership of the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands: the US government had learned that the Republic of China and Japan had fallen into disputes over the sovereignty of the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands. It was the belief of the United States that its return of the power of administration over the islands it gained from Japan back to Japan would by no means jeopardize the basic claim of the Republic of China. Through the reversion of the power of administration over these islands, the United States would neither add to the legal rights Japan used to enjoy over these islands before it transferred administration of the islands to the United States, nor diminish the rights of the Republic of China. 
Some US scholars have pointed out that although Article V of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan prescribes that the two sides shall jointly react to armed attacks against either party in the territories under Japanese administration, such reaction should be taken under two conditions: in accordance with constitutional provisions and processes, and all measures must be reported to the United Nations Security Council in accordance with Article 51 of the Charter. This means that in case of an emergency, the United States is not obliged to offer any automatic protection to these islands. Whether or not the Diaoyu Islands fall into the coverage of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan does not depend upon the interpretation of the provisions, but instead mainly hinges on the United States’ strategic interests in future relations with Japan and China.
The United States has always remained low-key on the issue of whether or not the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan applies to the Diaoyu Islands, an indication of its unwillingness to become involved in China and Japan’s territorial disputes. For example, in September 1996, former US Vice President and Ambassador to Japan Walter Mondale told reporters that even if the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands come under attack, the US army will not offer any protection. On October 18 of the same year, US State Department spokesman Nicolas Vance told reporters that the US obligations are clearly specified in the treaty and will not be related to any dispute over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands. Talking on the same issue one month later on November 15, then US Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord said that the United States was ready to honor the treaty at any time, but not in the case of any presumed conditions. 
The Japanese government has never spared any effort to have the United States explicitly agree to the coverage of the Diaoyu Islands in the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan so that it may gain leverage and strengthen its ties with the United States. Meanwhile, the United States has started to retreat from its former stance on the treaty’s applicability to the Diaoyu Islands. For instance, when President George W. Bush took office in 2001; some US officials began to stray from the line drawn by the Clinton Administration. On February 2, 2004, former US Assistant Secretary of State Armitage said in the Japan Press Club that any attack against a territory under Japanese administration shall be taken by the United States as an attack against its own territory.  In March of 2004, Joseph Ereli, then assistant spokesman of the US State Department, clarified three points to reporters: the Diaoyu Islands have been put under Japan’s power of administration since the return of Okinawa to in 1972; the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan applies to all territories under Japan’s administration, as prescribed in Article V of the treaty; and, therefore, the Diaoyu Islands fall under the coverage provided by the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan.
In its early days, the Obama administration chose to repeat only the first two foreign policy positions put forth by the Bush administration, and tried to avoid reference to the third point. However, since the ‘collision incident’ between a Chinese fishing trawler and Japanese coast guard ships in September of 2010, some US officials have begun to make express references to the third point in an attempt to keep Japan’s government from loosening its ties with the United States. On September 23, 2010, senior director for East Asian affairs on the National Security Council Jeffrey Bader told reporters:
“What the Japanese are referring to is a longstanding U.S. position, which is, number one, we do not take a position on the respective territorial claims of China and Japan towards the Senkaku Islands. But number two, the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty covers all areas administered by Japan, and since the reversion of Okinawa to — from the U.S. to Japan in 1972, the Senkaku Islands have been administered by Japan, so that is what that is a reference to. But we have no expectation in any known universe that this would escalate to that kind of a level.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has gone even further. In her talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, and on October 28, 2012, she said these islands obviously fall under the coverage of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, the first time for such a stand to be taken by a US Secretary of State.
The retreat by the United States from its former position on the applicability of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan to the Diaoyu Islands has been taken by the rightists in Japan as a rare opportunity to involve the United States in the territorial dispute. Believing that the United States will surely come to their support in the Diaoyu Islands row, these rightists have kept tensions high, only to raise new issues in 2012 by purchasing or nationalizing the Diaoyu Islands. The Japanese government seized the opportunity in an attempt to tilt the previous balance between the two countries, instead of curbing the nationalist behavior of Japanese rightists. Regretfully, however, the US government has failed to realize the risks from its involvement by the Japanese rightists in the Diaoyu Islands dispute and their provocation against China. By writing into a supplementary clause of its National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 the provision that Article V of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan applies to the Diaoyu Islands, the United States has risked exploitation by the Abe government. Resolved to make trouble over the Diaoyu Islands, the rightist Japanese government will surely pose a stern challenge to East Asian stability; one of the last outcomes the Obama administration hopes to see.
Dr. Liu Qing is Director of the Department for American Studies and an associate research fellow at CIIS.
平成22年度外交記録公開（3）盘4 第0600—2010—00027密約4 関連文書00000052
 转引 “American Defence Commitments and Asian Island Disputes,” http://www.boundaries.com/US-Asia.htm
 The New York Times, September 16,1996.[日]《产经新闻》1996年10月4日。
 “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Asian Affairs Jeff Bader, and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes,” Collection: Office of the White House Press Secretary。