US offers its cold war hotline experience to China, Japan in setting up communication mechanism

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 November, 2015, 12:27am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 5:59pm

US defence officials offered their experience to China and Japan in setting up a communication mechanism to avoid accidental clashes involving territorial disputes, according to a former adviser to the government in Tokyo.

Naoyuki Agawa, a professor at Keio University who previously served in the Japanese embassy in Washington, said Pentagon officials had suggested such a mechanism could be useful for China and Japan, given Beijing's declaration of an air defence identification zone over the East China Sea in late 2013.

American officials are worried about accidental confrontations between China and Japan
Naoyuki Agawa

"American officials are worried about accidental confrontations between China and Japan," Agawa said.

"Some of the people I have talked to privately indicated that was how the Soviet Union and the US worked together when they were at the height of the cold war.

"What I heard them saying was that: do you have that kind of mechanism between China and Japan? If not, we have experience and that could be useful."

Read more: China and Japan agree to restart top-level East China Sea talks

Japan and China agreed late on Sunday they would aim to resume talks on the exploration of natural resources in the East China Sea, and would work towards setting up a maritime and air communication mechanism to prevent conflict.

The agreements came as Premier Li Keqiang held his first meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Critics said finalising the communication mechanism would be difficult because of the stances the two nations had taken over the East China Sea.

While Beijing insists the issue is a territorial dispute, Japan refuses to recognise it as such.

Even so, Japan believes some kind of communication mechanism is needed as Chinese vessels have entered waters Japan claims as its territory.

Agawa said there could be some "creative ways" of pushing forward the mechanism. For example, the two nations could officially agree that they had a "disagreement".

The meeting between Abe and Li came amid heightened concerns over China's growing assertiveness in its handling of territorial disputes, particularly in the South China Sea.

Read more: China and Japan eye early launch of East China Sea crisis management mechanism

US guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese controlled Subi Reef last Tuesday.

Yasuhisa Kawamura, press secretary for Japan's foreign affairs ministry, said Japan supported the sail-by because it was "in accordance with international law".

Abe had discussed the South China Sea in talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye yesterday, he said.

"Japan's basic stance on this issue is that … Japan would like to cooperate with the US and South Korea in order to preserve an open, liberal, and peaceful ocean," Kawamura said.

Agawa said China's behaviour in the South China Sea was alarming, and the sail-by indicated the US valued its relationship with countries in the region and was willing to take action.

"It is vital that the US remains in this area in terms of economic and strategic interests," he said.