Japan, China eye May talks on maritime crisis management mechanism


Japan and China envision holding a meeting in Singapore around May to discuss a maritime crisis management mechanism aimed at avoiding clashes around East China Sea islands, diplomatic sources said.

At the meeting of senior officials, the two nations will aim to agree on how the mechanism should operate, with an eye to putting it into practice by the end of the year, the sources said Friday.

In November, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to talks over a mechanism to ease tensions over the sovereignty of the Senkakus — uninhabited islets in the East China Sea controlled by Japan but also claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu.

So far, Japan and China have agreed to use a common radio frequency for their ships and planes around the Senkakus when they get overly close to each other. Chinese patrol ships have repeatedly been spotted around the islets, and fighter jets from both countries have at times flown extremely close to each other in the East China Sea, raising fears of a military incident.

Officials from the Defense Ministry and Maritime Self-Defense Force, and from China’s Ministry of Defense, have clarified that the mechanism is designed to avoid clashes at sea and in the sky.

Japan and China have also agreed to set up a hot line between senior defense officials from both sides, and to hold regular meetings between their defense officials.

At the meeting in May, officials are expected to discuss further details, including which ships and airplanes should be able to communicate via radio, and what rank officials from the Defense Ministry and China’s military must be in order to communicate via the proposed hot line, according to the sources.

The meeting, expected to take place on the occasion of the annual Asia Security Summit in Singapore, is likely to be held at the vice ministerial level. However, if an agreement is deemed certain, the talks may be upgraded to ministerial level, the sources said.