‘Sea of peace’ at hand but Japanese defense officials have doubts over agreement
TOKYO — Oki Nagai and Masaya Kato report: In a move aimed at preventing accidental military clashes, Japan and China have agreed to implement a bilateral communication mechanism starting on June 8.
The agreement, which ends 11 years of negotiations to establish the Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism, was the highlight of a meeting in Tokyo between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday.
“We will make the East China Sea into a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship by easing tensions and fostering mutual trust,” Abe said at a press conference after attending Wednesday’s signing ceremony. “Representatives of the two countries’ defense authorities have just signed a memorandum.”
Li echoed and said “the clearing-up weather heralds a favorable future for China and Japan.”
The mechanism features three pillars: a dedicated radio frequency and language for communication between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and Chinese military; a hotline connecting the two countries’ senior defense officials; and regular discussions between the officials to build trust.
The first pillar is key to avoiding unintended clashes, but the countries will also “use conventional means of communication involving military ships and airplanes,” according to a document released by the Japanese Defense Ministry.
In other words, frontline communication remains mostly unchanged even after the mechanism goes into effect.
The two countries began discussing the mechanism in 2007. In the interim, however, the geopolitical landscape changed greatly, according to people familiar with the issue. Specifically, Japan, the U.S., China and 18 other countries concluded the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea in 2014 to reduce the chance of maritime accidents between nations in the accord. Hence, the importance of a bilateral mechanism between Japan and China diminished somewhat since 2007.
Still, the mechanism adds a new dimension as it calls for regular dialogue between senior defense officials, an area not covered by CUES.
But the agreement will hardly change Japan’s frontline readiness to cope with China’s military activities. “It is questionable if [the accord] can reduce the risk of clashes,” a defense official said … (read more)