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U.S. Affirms Support for Japan in Islands Dispute with China

A Chinese man reads a newspaper which reports that U.S., Japan and South Korea sent flights through China's newly declared maritime air defense zone, in Beijing, China Friday, Nov. 29, 2013. China said it sent warplanes into the air defense zone days after the U.S., South Korea and Japan all sent flights through the airspace in defiance of rules Beijing says it has imposed in the East China Sea. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
A Chinese man reads a newspaper which reports that U.S., Japan and South Korea sent flights through China’s newly declared maritime air defense zone, in Beijing, China Friday, Nov. 29, 2013. China said it sent warplanes into the air defense zone days after the U.S., South Korea and Japan all sent flights through the airspace in defiance of rules Beijing says it has imposed in the East China Sea. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

(Reuters) – The United States pledged support for ally Japan on Wednesday in a growing dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea and senior U.S. administration officials accused Beijing of behavior that had unsettled its neighbors.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel assured his Japanese counterpart in a phone call that the two nations’ defense pact covered the small islands where China established a new airspace defense zone last week and commended Tokyo “for exercising appropriate restraint,” a Pentagon spokesman said.

China’s declaration raised the stakes in a territorial standoff between Beijing and Tokyo over the area, which includes the tiny uninhabited islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

The United States defied China’s demand that airplanes flying near the islands identify themselves to Chinese authorities, flying two unarmed B-52 bombers over the islands on Tuesday without informing Beijing.

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