Japan and China have decided to sign an agreement facilitating cooperation in search and rescue operations when accidents take place in waters off the two countries, government sources said Monday.
The accord, expected to be inked later this month when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits China, is aimed at building confidence between the maritime security authorities of the two countries at a time when tensions continue over a small group of islands. Both sides have sought to manage them to improve bilateral ties.
Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that they are “making final arrangements” for the signing.
Abe will leave on Oct. 25 for a three-day trip to China, his first aimed primarily at discussing bilateral issues rather than attending international meetings since he returned to power in late 2012.
Abe is likely to approve the conclusion of the maritime search and rescue agreement — which follows years of negotiations — during talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, before they witness its signing at a ceremony, according to the sources close to the Japanese government.
His trip to Beijing, timed with the 40th anniversary of when the two countries’ peace and friendship treaty took effect, will include a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Oct. 26.
Japan and China agreed in principle to reach the agreement in December 2011. But negotiations were suspended as bilateral relations deteriorated after Tokyo decided to put the Senkaku Islands, in the East China Sea — claimed by Beijing, which calls them Diaoyu — under state control in September 2012.
When Abe and Li held talks in Japan in May they agreed to sign the agreement at an early date, and working-level negotiations have been underway since. The envisioned agreement stipulates that Japan and China will take emergency measures related to search and rescue operations when accidents occur in nearby waters, the sources said.
The accord also shows ways information will be exchanged between Japanese and Chinese authorities. But it does not specify which areas should be dealt with by Tokyo or Beijing, in an attempt to circumnavigate the territorial row over the uninhabited islands.
Japan already has similar search and rescue agreements with South Korea and the United States.