WASHINGTON: Wars have started over less. Even as the administration “rebalances” to Asia, it is scrambling to stay out of the region’s escalating territorial disputes. None is more baffling to outsiders than the three-sided conflict over the tiny, uninhabited islands known in Japanese as the Senkakus and in Chinese as the Diaoyus or the Tiaoyutai.

And that dispute keeps escalating. Just this morning, China’s Xinhua news service announced four warships of the rapidly growing PLA Navy had “patrolled” the waters off the Japanese-controlled isles, just the latest in a series of naval probes. On the U.S. side, the Senate passed an annual defense bill that included a (non-binding) “Sense of the Senate” amendment from Virginia’s James Webb pledging the US will stand by its treaty commitments to defend “territories under the administration of Japan,” explicitly including the Senkakus, against “armed attack.” Keep reading →