Maryann Tobin

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has begun a planned trip to Asia and hopes talks with Chinese and Japanese officials will stave of a potential war between the two nations.

In Tokyo, Panetta expressed deep concerns over territorial disputes between China and Japan, which have the potential to escalate into conflict.

Panetta said, "I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands, that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence, and could result in conflict," according to The Australian.

Panetta is scheduled to meet with Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and will then travel to China for meetings with Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie, before heading to New Zealand for the final leg of his Asia tour.

"The trip highlights the U.S. role in maintaining peace and security, which for decades has set conditions to advance prosperity and democracy in the region," according to the U.S. Defense Department.

However, maintaining peace is becoming an increasingly difficult task, since Chinese demonstrators attacked Japanese businesses in Tokyo over the weekend.

"Angry crowds across China ransacked Japanese businesses, smashed Japanese cars and pelted Tokyo's embassy in Beijing with eggs and plastic bottles in weekend protests over disputed islands in the East China Sea," according to the Wall Street Journal.

The uninhabited islands at the center of the tensions are believed to be a valuable source of undersea minerals, and are in the path of advantageous shipping lanes in the East China Sea.

Japan has been leasing one of the small islands and announced on Tuesday that it was nationalizing three others. But the Chinese say the islands belong to them.

Six Chinese patrol ships attempted to flex their muscles on Friday by entering Japanese waterways, but retreated after the appearance of the Japanese Coast Guard ships.

The Obama administration has vowed not to get involved in territorial disputes between foreign countries, but that does not mean that the United States won't do everything it can to promote peace in the region. Both China and Japan are important trading partners with the U.S., and any dispute between them could only have a detrimental affects on all three.

A senior U.S. military official told the Washington Post, "I don’t think that we’d allow the U.S. to get dragged into a conflict over fish or over a rock.”

Still, Panetta's trip demonstrates the Obama administration's interest in helping to work toward a peaceful resolution with China and Japan.


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