Japan and China launched a communication mechanism between their defense authorities Friday to avert accidental clashes in the air and at sea, while sidestepping a territorial row over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
The launch of the Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism had been a long pending issue, but the countries reached an agreement in May amid a recent thaw in bilateral relations that have previously been marred by disputes over territory and history.
In addition to opening the hotline, senior Japanese and Chinese defense officials will hold annual gatherings to discuss the mechanism.
In an apparent attempt to avoid further complicating the dispute over the Japanese-controlled islands, which China claims and calls the Diaoyus, the two countries refrained from specifying the geographical coverage of the mechanism.
The territorial row intensified in 2012 after Japan decided to bring the Senkakus under state control. Chinese government vessels have since entered Japanese territorial waters near the islets on numerous occasions.
After agreeing with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Tokyo to implement the mechanism, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in May he hopes the system will help ease tensions and build trust so “the East China Sea will become a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.”
Under the mechanism, Japan and China will host in turn annual senior official and expert-level meetings to look into the operation of the system and technical problems that need to be addressed.
The two countries also confirmed in their agreement that the Self-Defense Forces and the Chinese military will continue to abide by existing communications protocols between vessels and aircraft to prevent an escalation of tensions.
Written notification will be required if either country decides to suspend or terminate the agreement.