US Defence Secretary Hagel reiterated that the islands fall under the US-Japan security treaty, meaning that Washington would defend its ally Tokyo if the area is attacked.
He made it clear that the United States, which stations more than 70,000 troops in Japan and South Korea, would not respect China's declaration of control over the zone.
However, Washington has repeatedly said it takes no position on the islands'
Japan has vowed not to cede sovereignty or even to acknowledge a dispute with
China over the islands.
It accuses its neighbour of trying to change the status quo through intimidation.
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