KUALA LUMPUR – The defense ministers of Japan and China have agreed in their first talks since June 2011 that defense exchanges and the early launch of a maritime communication mechanism will be important in preventing accidental clashes.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday after meeting Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Chang Wanquan on the sidelines of a regional security gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani declined to say if they discussed China’s contentious moves in the disputed South China Sea.
Nakatani, however, challenged China’s behavior during the gathering of 18 defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their regional partners.
“There have been unilateral actions heightening tension and they are a concern shared by the international community,” he said, urging his counterparts at the meeting to work together to keep the South China Sea “open and peaceful.”
In their bilateral meeting, Chang told Nakatani that Japan should not make any moves that would complicate the matter, saying the South China Sea situation was “not an issue between China and Japan,” according to China’s Ministry of National Defense.
Tensions in the South China Sea have mounted as a U.S. Navy destroyer last month entered waters within 12 nautical miles (22 km) of an artificial island China has created in the disputed Spratly Islands, prompting Beijing to express its “resolute opposition” to moves that threaten Chinese sovereignty.
On Tuesday, Chang and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter met in the Malaysian capital for the first time since the incident but remained apart on the issue.
On Wednesday, Nakatani also held bilateral talks for the first time with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne, who assumed the post in September, and agreed to promote defense cooperation among the two countries and the United States for peace and stability in the region.
Both Japan and Australia support the U.S. decision to send a destroyer into the area, which China calls its territorial waters.
Nakatani and Payne also discussed procedures related to Australia’s plan to acquire a new fleet of submarines for its navy, with Japan vying against Germany and France to win the order. Each country is urged to submit proposals required for the competitive evaluation process by the end of November.
Payne was quoted as saying Australia will seriously consider Japan’s proposal.
Nakatani later met with Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and agreed to promote cooperation on maritime security issues.