US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has expressed concern over territorial disputes between Japan and China, saying the spats may lead to conflicts involving other countries.
"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 and that conflict would then, you know, have the potential of expanding," Panetta told reporters on Sunday onboard his plane en route to Tokyo, Japan.
Tokyo is the first stop of Panetta’s weeklong trip to the East Asia region, which will include visits to China and New Zealand.
The trip is reportedly the third tour of the American military chief to Asia Pacific in the past 11 months, echoing Pentagon’s shifting efforts to place further military emphasis on the region.
Panetta said he will urge countries of the region, especially China, to find ways to peacefully resolve their disputes.
Protests against Japan have erupted across China over the past days over a long-running dispute on a group of uninhabited islands in East China Sea.
During his visit to Japan, the American defense secretary plans to discuss with officials in Tokyo the controversial deployment of 12 V-22 Osprey aircraft to the country.
Thousands of Japanese have protested the hybrid aircraft’s planned deployment in their nation, questioning its safety record.