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    US Official: Japan's Stance on Territorial Disputes 'Normal'

    The U.S. government is taking a hands-off approach to Japan's territorial disputes with its neighbors. However, one senior American diplomat has expressed an understanding of Japan's stance, calling it a natural evolution.

    The top U.S. diplomat on arms control, while stressing that Washington does not take sides on Japan's territorial disputes, say the country is merely demonstrating that it is willing to look out for its own security interests.

    U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said Thursday that Japan's new assertiveness is in line with the desires of many Japanese politicians to take their country beyond its post-World War II pacifism.

    "It's a question of the evolution of Japanese thinking on its own," he said. "Japan has made it clear they want to resolve all of the territorial disputes by diplomatic means and that's certainly something that we agree with. Our kind of getting in the middle of it is probably not the most productive way to proceed."

    Mr. Bolton made the comment during a meeting with reporters as he wrapped up a visit to Japan.

    The Japanese government this week said it was taking over operation of a lighthouse in the Senkaku islands, which China and Taiwan also claim. Japanese nationalists built the lighthouse on an uninhabited island in the East China Sea.

    A foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing says Japan's action is illegal because the Diaoyu islands, as they are called in Chinese, belong to China.

    Japan has unresolved disputes involving a number of islands with China, Taiwan and Russia, as well as South and North Korea.

    Officials here say Japan's assertiveness on the issue is in response to increased activities in those waters by Chinese warships and survey vessels.

    Most of the disputed islands have little value. But the waters around them are important, for control of sea lanes and the potential maritime riches, such as seafood and mineral deposits.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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