YOKOTA AIR FORCE BASE, Japan — Against the backdrop of Russia's takeover of Ukraine's Crimean region, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Saturday he will convey to Japanese leaders that the United States is strongly committed to protecting their country's security.
Hagel said it is understandable that countries are concerned by the unfolding events in Ukraine, where Russian troops remain massed along the border. The issue reverberates in Asia where China, Japan and others are in bitter territorial disputes, including over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
"It's a pretty predictable, I think, reaction, not just of nations of this area and this region but all over the world," Hagel told reporters traveling with him to Tokyo.
"I think any time you have a nation — Russia in this case — try to impose its will to refine and define international boundaries and violate the territorial integrity and sovereignty of a nation by force, all of the world takes note of that."
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Russel also said this past week that Russia's annexation of Crimea heightened concern, particularly among some Southeast Asian nations, about the possibility of China "threatening force or other forms of coercion to advance their territorial interests."
The United States has said it takes no side on the question of the disputed islands' sovereignty, but it recognizes Japan's administration of them and has responsibilities to protect Japanese territory under a mutual defense treaty.
Hagel said the United States wants the countries in the region to resolve the disputes peacefully. But he added that the United States would honor its treaty commitments.
There is no "weakness on the part of the United States as to our complete and absolute commitment to the security of Japan," Hagel said. "So I don't think there is any indication or any evidence that we're doing anything but strengthening our commitment to the security of Japan."