• Kyodo

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Japan and China agreed Friday to speed up the process of setting up a maritime communication mechanism to avert accidental clashes in nearby waters, despite their continuing dispute over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands.

Without providing details, the Japanese and Chinese defense ministries respectively said in a statement they have also reached some common understanding on the technical matters of the mechanism during working-level talks in Beijing.

According to an official with knowledge of the one-day meeting, among other major issues, Japan and China agreed to communicate in English in the event of an emergency and set up hot lines between the chiefs of their naval and air forces.

But the two countries have yet to decide whether their claimed territorial waters and airspace will fall within the scope of the new mechanism, the source said, adding that the next round of talks could take place next month in Tokyo.

Following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s first, brief, meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November, the two countries resumed working-level talks in January, the first time since 2012.

Abe and Xi agreed to ease maritime tensions stemming from their standoff over the uninhabited Senkakus, which are also claimed by Taiwan. The talks were suspended after Japan effectively nationalized the chain, called Diaoyu by China and Tiaoyutai by Taiwan, in September 2012 by outbidding the nationalist Shintaro Ishihara, who was then governor of Tokyo.

Differences over the islands in the East China Sea and over wartime legacy issues linger between Tokyo and Beijing, but high-level political contacts, as well as private-sector exchanges, have been on the rise recently.