Clinton emails show U.S. tried to heal Tokyo-Beijing rift over Senkakus

The U.S. government was accelerating efforts to ease tensions between Japan and China over thr disputed Senkaku Islands in September 2012, according to emails sent to and from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The documents were disclosed on Saturday.

An Oct. 2, 2012, email to Clinton from a senior official said: “We assess that the Chinese and Japanese positions are hardening due to a variety of factors despite a shared understanding that prolonged friction would be harmful to regional stability and the global economic recovery.”

The email was sent by Kurt Campbell, then Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

“We are now engaged in delicate diplomacy with both side” to de-escalate tensions and find a face-saving exit, he told Clinton.

Specifically, Campbell proposed sending “a small bipartisan group of esteemed former policymakers” who are respected in both Japan and China, and would “speak candidly to our key themes of cooling tensions and finding a pragmatic solution.”

Sending such a group carries the advantage of showing Washington’s “proactive efforts” to manage the issue “while not serving as a mediator,” he said. “If you agree to support this proposal, we would need to strike quickly, preferably in the next two weeks.”

In a reply sent six minutes later, Clinton showed her willingness to push forward with the measure. Clinton said she presented the idea to Thomas Donilon, then national security adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, adding that he sounded positive about it.

In his email, Campbell cited possible candidates for members of the proposed bipartisan group of former policymakers, although their names were redacted by the Department of State before releasing the email exchange.

On Oct. 10, 2012, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye met with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in Tokyo and discussed the Japanese government’s action to put some of the Senkakus in national ownership. The islands are claimed by China and called Diaoyu by Beijing.

The State Department is disclosing emails sent to and from Clinton when she was at the helm following revelations that she used a private email server for official duties.

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