US President Barack Obama (L) speaks as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks on during a bilateral press conference at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on April 24, 2014. (AFP/Jim WATSON)
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Showing solidarity with Japan, President Barack Obama affirmed Thursday that the U.S. would be obligated to defend Tokyo in a confrontation with Beijing over a set of disputed islands, but urged all sides to resolve the long-running dispute peacefully.Wading cautiously into a diplomatic minefield, Obama insisted the U.S. takes no position on whether the islands in the East China Sea are ultimately in the dominion of China or Japan. Although Obama has sought to avoid getting dragged in to territorial disputes an ocean away, Japan and other U.S. allies see the disputes through the broader lens of China's growing influence in Asia, where Obama arrived Wednesday at the start of a four-nation, eight-day tour.China is not on Obama's itinerary, but concerns about the Asian powerhouse are trailing the president nonetheless. Beijing is watching closely for signs that U.S. is seeking to limit China's rise, while smaller nations are looking to Obama for affirmations that his vaunted push to increase U.S. influence in Asia hasn't petered out. China's government said this week that "the so-called Japan-U.S. alliance" should not harm China's territorial rights, urging the U.S. to play a constructive role in promoting regional stability.
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