(WASHINGTON) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has found himself caught in the middle of a simmering dispute between China and Japan over Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea that has boiled over into protests in numerous Chinese cities.
Panetta, who is traveling in the Far East on defense matters, admitted that the White House is concerned by the recent controversy, which threatens $345 billion in annual trade between China and Japan, and urged “calm and restraint on all sides.”
The situation has grown more precarious in recent days with many Japanese companies on mainland China temporarily shutting down to avoid violence possibly directed at them.
Panetta also warned, “There is a danger that [with] a provocation of one kind or another, we could have a blow-up. When you play the game of who is in charge, it starts to get risky.”
Claiming sovereignty over the uninhabited islands is a tricky matter since the Japanese refer to them as Senkaku while the Chinese call the islands Diaoyu.
Despite the uproar, Panetta is still going ahead with his meeting in Beijing with plans to meet Vice President Xi Jinping, who is widely speculated to become the country’s next president despite rumors circulating about his health.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Samantha Beech, CNN
Eliza Mackintosh, CNN
Joe Sterling and Darran Simon, CNN