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Editorial: No more time to put off Japan-China crisis management system

The military tensions that continue in the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture have the potential of leading to accidental clashes between China and Japan. In a meeting on Sept. 5, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to speed up discussions between their respective defense officials to set up a maritime and aerial communication hotline to prevent any such contingencies.

Nearly two years have passed since November 2014, when the two leaders first agreed to establish a hotline. If the East China Sea is to truly become a "sea of peace," both Japan and China must take the responsibility of setting the agreement in stone.

Tensions in the East China Sea continue. Chinese naval warships have locked their fire-control radar on a Japanese maritime escort, and have navigated through Japanese territorial waters off Kagoshima Prefecture's Kuchinoerabu Island.

In the past five years, there has been a surge in the frequency with which Japan's Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) scrambled fighter jets in response to Chinese aircraft flying near Japanese airspace, recording a total 571 times in fiscal 2015 alone. Two years ago, Chinese fighter jets came extraordinarily close to SDF fighter jets.

In August this year, China Coast Guard vessels repeatedly entered Japanese territorial waters and the contiguous zone just outside Japanese waters, to which patrol vessels from the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) issued warnings. China has repeated a pattern of taking provocative action and stopping, over and over again.

Prime Minister Abe said that he "frankly and clearly" communicated to President Xi that such provocations were unacceptable.

Bilateral political tensions over China's foray into the South China Sea and other issues have resulted in the current delay in establishing a hotline between the two countries. But putting off discussion of a crisis management system citing political conflict only prolongs the risky state of affairs between Japan and China. We can no longer afford to continue in this way.

A communication mechanism would allow ships and aircraft from both countries to communicate with each other, and a hotline between senior Japanese and Chinese officials would put the two parties in direct contact. This is the best way to prevent accidental clashes.

There are, of course, many issues that would not be addressed by such a mechanism. Since the system would be instituted under military rules, communications between the China Coast Guard and the JCG fall outside its jurisdiction. There's no guarantee that provocative actions or misinterpretations of actions between the two parties will not lead to unforeseen emergencies.

Because it took a long time to arrange the bilateral summit meeting, it took place after the G-20 Summit, hosted by China, ended. This, too, is a clear reflection of the smoldering frustrations between the two countries.

The international environment surrounding China is changing, with Europe increasingly speaking out against China's activities in the South China Sea. An arbitration tribunal in The Hague dismissed China's claims in the South China Sea. China will have to figure out how to respond to criticism from the international community.

During the bilateral meeting, both Abe and Xi agreed to "continue talks at various levels (of government)." A communication mechanism would have a framework for multilayered discussion, and will be useful as a foundation on which to build a relationship of trust. Not only will such a system serve to prevent contingencies between the two countries, it is sure to help bilateral cooperation on a wide range of issues.

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