The Obama administration has been talking about a “pivot back into Asia” for several months now, yet we have seen little evidence that the United States is prepared to challenge China in East Asia. That may finally be changing. According to Japanese media, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Aug. 5 discussed the potential for U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk patrols over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) used by the United States Air Force and Navy as a surveillance aircraft. High altitute survelliance and intelligence, similar to the Lockheed U-2 1950s spy plane. Global Hawk provides high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) that can penetrate cloud-cover and sandstorms and Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) long range imagry. Can survey 40,000 square miles of terrain/day.
When former US Ambassador to China, Roy, now of the Kissinger Institute was in Shanghai a few months ago, he pointed out that legalistically, the US relationship with the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands is different from the relationships in the South China Sea. The US is obligated to protect Japanese interests in the Diaoyu islands as part of the US/Japan defence treaty.
Stratfor has an interesting take, that:
By suggesting that the United States will take a more proactive role in assuring Japan’s continued control of the Senkakus, Washington is attempting to assuage concerns among other potential partners and allies in the Asia-Pacific region. Washington aims to demonstrate its willingness to consistently and reliably counter any perceived Chinese overreach, allowing regional partners to feel confident about strengthening ties with the United States in spite of Chinese assertiveness.