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Japan, China launch maritime-aerial communication mechanism

The Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier Kaga is seen in waters off Yokohama in this March 22, 2017 file photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A Japan-China maritime and aerial communication mechanism aimed at averting unintended clashes between the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and Chinese military went into operation on June 8.

Expectations are high that the system will contribute to preventing any escalation of tensions by clarifying the rules for communications between the countries' defense authorities.

"The mechanism is extremely significant for averting any contingencies," said Joint Staff Chief of Staff Katsutoshi Kawano at a June 7 press conference. A notice was issued on May 29 to inform SDF personnel of the content of an agreement with China on the mechanism.

Under the mechanism, the two countries will establish rules for direct communications in the event the SDF and Chinese forces came close to each other, set up a hotline between bilateral defense authorities, and mutually host annual meetings of director-general and division chief level officials.

Tokyo and Beijing agreed in 2007 to initiate negotiations over the mechanism, and a memorandum was exchanged this past May when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Japan.

With regard to direct communications between vessels and aircraft, Japan and China will use specific frequencies, signals and abbreviations based on the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), adopted in 2014 by 21 countries, and the Convention on International Civil Aviation.

There are concerns that the mechanism went into operational too early as the details of the hotlines have yet to be finalized, raising the need to ensure the effectiveness of the direct communication system.

Tokyo is highly likely to set up the hotline at the Joint Staff, which is tasked with operating SDF troops, while Beijing has not yet finalized where to set up the system as the chains of command are different depending on the armed service and their operational areas. The defense authorities of the two countries are considering setting up multiple hotlines so they can be used depending on individual cases.

Because the Japanese and Chinese coast guards are not subject to the bilateral communication mechanism, it is likely that Japan Coast Guard vessels will continue to monitor China Coast Guard ships frequenting waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, which are also claimed by China. If SDF and Chinese military vessels come close to each other near the Senkakus, there are concerns that both parties will accuse the other of intruding into their territorial waters, leading to escalating tensions.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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