Japan’s calls for resolute defence of disputed islands in East China Sea, China maintained heavy maritime presence in area. Japanese foreign ministry 16 Sept announced it lodged formal protest with China over 30 Aug appearance of seven Chinese coast guard vessels in contiguous zone of disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, with ships approaching five Japanese fishing vessels; Japanese Coast Guard called event “extremely serious”, saying it was largest number of ships in area since 2016; unconfirmed reports indicated Chinese coast guard ship rammed Japanese coast guard vessel. Separately, at least 91 Chinese coast guard vessels entered contiguous zone of disputed islands during month, while four entered territorial waters. Elsewhere, Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force 3 Sept observed Chinese naval flotilla in Miyako Strait, which Chinese commentators described as warning to Japan and Taiwan, and Japanese defence ministry 12 Sept reported Chinese submarine in contiguous zones of its southern islands. Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force 15 Sept launched largest military exercise since 1993, with 100,000 personnel simulating defence of south-western Japan. Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi 16 Sept said Japan has to demonstrate its resolute defence of Diaoyu/Senkaku islands with “greater number of Japanese coast guard vessels than that of China”. Joint statement from first in-person summit of “Quad” leaders (U.S., Australia, India and Japan) 24 Sept noted need to “meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order” in East China Sea. Former Japanese FM Fumio Kishida 29 Sept won party leadership election and is set to become next PM; Kishida same day declared intention to pursue “free and open Indo-Pacific”.
The greatest risk to the 12 June summit between the U.S. and North Korea is mismatched expectations. To avoid a return to escalatory rhetoric, both parties should keep hopes modest and adopt an action-for-action approach as part of a four-step plan for denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.
The deterioration in relations between China and Japan has spiraled beyond an island sovereignty dispute and risks an armed conflict neither wants. A November regional summit is a fence-mending opportunity – if the two countries’ leaders rise above nationalism and manage multiple flashpoints.
China and Japan must begin talks on crisis prevention and mitigation regarding the disputed waters of the East China Sea to avoid an accidental clash that could lead to a larger conflict.
Last week the world watched the first-ever meeting between a North Korean leader and a U.S. president. Crisis Group offers a 360-degree view of how the summit played in the U.S., the Korean peninsula, China and Japan – and what it may mean going forward.
Facing uncertain times in U.S. policy and a pivot to diplomacy from North Korea, leaders of China, Japan and South Korea met in Tokyo on 9 May to downplay historical grievances and show their support for denuclearisation, trade and better relations. But underlying disputes could still resurface.
Japan and China should use a new maritime and aerial communication mechanism to manage disputes with professionalism, dialogue and diplomacy.
Originally published in South China Morning Post
Originally published in The Interpreter