Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, has urged the early start of a “crisis management” mechanism with China amid conflicting claims with Japan over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands off Taiwan.
Relations between China and Japan, the world’s second- and third-largest economies, have also been strained by the legacy of Japan’s wartime occupation of its larger Asian neighbor.
Patrol ships and fighter jets from both countries have shadowed each other regularly near the tiny East China Sea islets, prompting fears that an accidental collision or other incident could escalate into a larger conflict.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed this month to start work on maritime crisis management. Such talks have been halted since Japan nationalized three of the disputed isles in September 2012.
“It would allow communication between people at the scene. That’s significant,” Kawano, chief of the Self-Defense Forces’ Joint Staff, said Friday.
“The communication mechanism covers both the navies and air forces. Enabling such communication would be a great step forward in avoiding an unexpected situation. We have been pushing for an early implementation all along,” he said.
Under the scheme, apart from hot lines between the two countries, direct communication will be possible between Japanese and Chinese vessels and aircraft.
Kawano said it is too early to say when the plans will come to fruition.
“Only when political ties are rebuilt, exchanges between the militaries become possible,” he said.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are meanwhile embroiled in competing claims in the potentially energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, which is criss-crossed by shipping lanes crucial for the smooth flow of international trade.