Japan, China head back to table over maritime hotline

Japan, China head back to table over maritime hotline

Japan and China have agreed to resume talks aimed at establishing a hotline to prevent accidental clashes between Japanese and Chinese forces, a development expected to boost the possibility of an Abe-Xi summit meeting during the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing in November.

Following Japan's repeated requests, the agreement was reached Wednesday at bilateral senior-official level talks to discuss maritime issues.

The preparatory talks will likely resume by the end of this year.

However, many still question how seriously China is approaching the talks. Tokyo will likely face difficulties before the mechanism actually goes into operation.

"It's extremely significant from the perspective of crisis management," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in praise of the agreement at a Thursday press conference.

Tensions are running high in waters around Okinawa Prefecture's Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, following incidents in which Chinese fighter jets ventured abnormally close to Self-Defence Forces planes.

It has therefore become urgent to set up a maritime liaison mechanism consisting of a hotline between the two countries' defence authorities, to avoid the risk of an accidental military conflict between Japan and China.

Under the mechanism, worst-case scenarios can be avoided by relevant senior officials of the two countries' defence authorities contacting each other by phone in case of an emergency. Regular meetings between such officials will also become possible.

The system will enable aircraft and vessels in the vicinity to directly contact one another using radio communication.

Even if a contingency occurred in relevant waters or in the air, further military conflicts and subsequent development into political issues could be prevented through the mechanism.

Discussions over creating the mechanism were discontinued after Japan's nationalisation of some of the Senkaku Islands in September 2012.

Beijing will host the next APEC summit meeting in November, which seems to be a factor behind China's softened stance toward the resumption of talks.

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