World / China-Japan Relations

Maritime safety talks resume with Japan

By Zhao Shengnan (China Daily) Updated: 2015-01-14 04:31

Development of crisis-management system at sea seen as important step in reducing risk

China and Japan agreed to launch a maritime crisis management system as soon as possible to reduce the risk of an accident in the air or at sea, as talks resumed on Monday after a long stall.

The move marked the latest encouraging step to avoid clashes in the East China Sea and to thaw the strained relationship between China and Japan, observers said.

Both countries discussed specifics, including potential technical problems, and agreed to launch the program as soon as possible after necessary adjustments based on the fourth round of talks in Tokyo, the Defense Ministry said on its website on Tuesday.

The working-level talks, involving the ministry, Japan's defense ministry and the Maritime Self-Defense Force, also reaffirmed the basic agreements that have been reached so far.

Defense authorities in both countries began the talks in 2012 and discussed basic principles for a set of measures such as setting up a hotline and unifying radio frequencies for warships and planes around the islands of the East China Sea.

But talks were suspended after the Japanese government's "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands in September 2012, before any mechanisms were put into operation.

The move instantly chilled Sino-Japanese ties and led to the Chinese navy and air force running regular patrols in the East China Sea. Vessels from the Japanese side have been keeping close watch on the Chinese ships, increasing the chance of an escalation.

"At a time we're seeing an increased risk of unforeseen events in waters and airspace, including in the East China Sea, I welcome this as a major step," Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said on Tuesday, according to Kyodo.

Shen Shishun, an expert in East Asian studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said he is optimistic that the mechanism can be launched at an early date, as both countries are clear that conflicts are in nobody's interest.

"It takes time for ties to be totally improved. The most urgent thing is that both sides should avoid a standoff, or even more assertive moves that create setbacks," he said.

Under the circumstances, it is more crucial than ever for China and Japan to take advantage of what might prove to be a temporary lull in tensions to finalize a maritime consultative mechanism, said the Tokyo-based journal The Diplomat.

An agreement will help stabilize the East China Sea during the next storm in relations, it said on Monday.

The restarted talks came less than a week after Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida held their first official meeting since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013.

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