Japan and China have agreed to resume talks as early as next week on establishing a mechanism this year to handle maritime crises, several Japanese sources said Tuesday.
Preparations are underway for working-level talks in Tokyo, possibly on Tuesday, the government sources said.
They said both countries hope to avert clashes in the waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The uninhabited islets are controlled by Japan but claimed by China.
In 2012, Japanese and Chinese defense authorities reached a basic agreement to set up a hotline and use a common radio frequency for their ships and planes when operating near the Senkakus.
Tokyo sounded out Beijing on resuming the talks by the end of January on setting up a way for their defense authorities to contact each other in an emergency. Beijing responded, saying the talks could be held in the middle of the month, the sources said.
During their first summit in November, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping agreed to ease tensions over the sovereignty of the islets and establish a crisis management mechanism.
Chinese patrol ships and airplanes have repeatedly passed near the chain, which China calls Diaoyu, keeping Japanese authorities on alert.
China is sensitive about how Tokyo handles issues related to history, particularly as this year marks the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II. Japan occupied large parts of modern-day China in the early part of the last century.
Abe’s December 2013 visit to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which enshrines several war criminals along with millions of war dead, further strained ties already chilled by events concerning the Senkakus. But he has stayed away from the shrine since then, apparently giving Beijing leeway to soften its stance and agree to the talks, the sources said.
The negotiations will reportedly include officials from Japan’s Defense Ministry and the Maritime Self-Defense Force, and China’s Defense Ministry.