CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.
Japanese coast guard 10 and 15 July spotted four Chinese coast guard ships around contested Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. International tensions increased over Chinese and Russian planes’ incursion of airspace over islands contested by Japan and South Korea; joint air exercise 23 July saw three Russian and two Chinese military planes fly over Dokdo islands in East Sea/Sea of Japan, claimed by both South Korea and Japan; Russia denied violation of airspace but confirmed it took part in joint patrol with Chinese aircraft. Japan’s ministry of defence said it had scrambled fighters to intercept planes (see Korean Peninsula).
Amid continued efforts to improve relations, Chinese President Xi met with Japanese PM Abe 27 June ahead of G20 summit in Osaka; at meeting Abe called for “new age of Japan-China relations”. Japanese warships 10 June spotted Chinese guided missile destroyer and combat supply ship near Okinawa, while Japan’s Defence Ministry reported seeing Chinese aircraft carrier sailing through Miyako strait in East China Sea next day. Japan Air Force 16 June scrambled jets to intercept Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) electronic warfare and surveillance plane passing through Miyako strait. Japan’s Foreign Ministry 17 June lodged protest with Beijing after Chinese maritime ship spotted conducting survey near disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands; same day, Japanese coast guard reported seeing four Chinese patrol ships around islands.
Further signs of improving relations between China and Japan ahead of planned visit by Chinese President Xi to Osaka for G2 summit in June. China’s top foreign policy official, State Councillor for foreign affairs Yang Jiechi, visited Tokyo 16-18 May; meeting with PM Abe called for the two countries to “strengthen coordination and collaboration”. Japanese and Chinese officials resumed disarmament talks in Beijing 21 May, marking first bilateral security meeting in eight years. Japan, Australia, South Korea and U.S. held first “Pacific Vanguard” naval training exercise in Western Pacific late May. Visiting Japan late May, U.S. President Trump discussed military cooperation with PM Abe; Trump reported Japan agreed to purchase 105 F-35 fighter jets from U.S.
Ahead of proposed visit of Chinese President Xi to Japan in June, Japan and China continued efforts to improve relations; at bilateral talks in Beijing 14-15 April, Chinese FM Wang urged his counterpart not to restrict Chinese technology companies such as Huawei, adding countries should turn “competition into coordination”. Chinese defence ministry 25 April said govt was willing to enhance defence exchanges with Japan. Military exercises and operations continued; Japan Air Force 1 April scrambled jets to intercept Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) electronic warfare and surveillance plane and two bombers passing through Miyako strait in East China Sea, second scrambling of jets against Chinese aircraft in 48 hours. Japanese defence ministry 9 April announced F-35A stealth jet disappeared during training drill over Pacific, later confirming plane had crashed; amid concerns China and Russia were searching for wreckage to test classified technology of F-35A jets, Japan and U.S. sent out coastguard vessels and military aircrafts to search for plane.
Amid ongoing diplomatic efforts on both sides, Chinese FM Wang 8 March noted relations improving and both countries would work to “deepen mutually beneficial cooperation”. Beijing 28 March said Japanese restrictions on Chinese technology companies such as Huawei could damage relations. Military exercises and operations continued; Japan Air Force 20 March scrambled jets to intercept Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) electronic warfare and surveillance plane passing through East China Sea, and again 30 March to intercept PLA aircraft flying through Miyako Strait. Japanese island of Iejima 11-14 March hosted U.S. Marines training exercises (see South China Sea), while U.S. flew B-52 bombers in joint training exercise with Japan Air Force over East China Sea 19 March.
Japan and China continued efforts to improve security relations amid ongoing maritime tensions. Senior Japanese and Chinese officials met in Beijing 1-2 Feb for security dialogue, committing to deepening mutual trust and promote exchanges; reportedly also discussed plans for Chinese President Xi to visit Japan later in 2019. Japanese coast guard apprehended Chinese fishing boat captain suspected of violating fishing laws in Japanese waters 2 Feb. Japan also lodged new complaints with Beijing 7 Feb after Chinese oil drilling vessel was found still deployed in disputed waters of East China Sea (ECS), having previously been sighted nearby in Nov 2018. Japan again scrambled jets 23 Feb to intercept Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) electronic warfare and surveillance plane passing through Tsushima Strait, which connects Sea of Japan, East China Sea and Yellow Sea. U.S. 29 Jan approved sales of two Aegis Weapon Systems to Japan.
Japan and China held security talks amid ongoing maritime tensions. Japan and China 26-27 Dec held first annual meeting of their Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism, established June 2018, in Beijing; reportedly discussed opening previously agreed-to hotline, but no new agreements announced. Countries expected to hold security dialogue 1 Feb. Addressing parliament 28 Jan, Japanese PM Abe said he will continue to improve relations with China but also wants to bolster defence capacity. Japanese media 6 Jan reported plans to add five new patrol boats to Japanese Coast Guard’s fleet, citing trespassing of Chinese vessels in Japanese waters around disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, and illegal fishing by North Korean vessels in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Beijing 2 Jan said Chinese research ship which was seen sailing near Japan’s southernmost point, Okinotori island, 18 Dec, prompting Japanese protest, was conducting “marine scientific and research activities” on “high seas”. Beijing disputed Okinotori’s status as an island generating an EEZ. U.S. held joint naval drills with Japan off west coast of Kyushu in East China Sea 11-12 Jan, and flew two B-52 bombers over area 28 Jan.
Japanese govt 18 Dec approved revised National Defence Program Guidelines referencing concerns over China’s growing military capacity, and recognising “importance of strategic competition” with neighbour as it “challenge[s] the regional order”. Paving way for plans to remodel its helicopter carriers to carry aircraft, guidelines also emphasised improving cyber, space and electronic warfare capabilities. Five-year procurement plan also approved same day outlining $225bn defence spending to include an additional 105 F-35 fighter jets. Both China and South Korea urged Japan to keep to its pacifist constitution in separate statements made same day, while China’s foreign ministry stated being “strongly dissatisfied” with representations of China made in new guidelines. Tokyo 3 Dec protested Chinese drilling activities sighted mid-Nov in contested waters of East China Sea (ECS). Japanese fighter jets intercepted Chinese electronic warfare and surveillance planes flying through Tsushima Strait (connecting ECS and Sea of Japan) 26 Nov and near Okinawa 14 Dec; 27 Dec reportedly intercepted Chinese navy surveillance plane crossing ECS. Tokyo 25 Dec lodged official complaint accusing Chinese fishing boat of fleeing its territorial waters with Japanese inspectors on board in early Nov; China denied boat was fishing in Japanese waters.
Chinese lieutenant-general led military officers responsible for East China Sea on visit to Japan 18-22 Nov; most senior delegation to visit since 2010, showing improving ties. U.S. and Japan held biennial “Keen Sword” Pacific maritime military exercises near Japan 29 Oct-8 Nov, joined by Canada for first time. PM Abe and U.S. VP Pence during 13 Nov meeting in Tokyo announced combined $70bn infrastructure development commitment to Indo-Pacific region, seen as response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Japanese media 27 Nov reported govt is considering upgrading Japan’s two Izumo-class helicopter carriers to enable them to carry F-35B Lighting fighter jets; plans to acquire more jets; and may build a third such vessel.
Japanese PM Abe 25-27 Oct made first visit to China since 2011, touted by both sides as “historic” in improving state relations. China and Japan agreed on currency swap mechanism, discussed bilateral trade and investment, and infrastructure cooperation in third countries. Business representatives signed agreements valued at $18bn. Japan and U.S. continued joint military exercises flying B-52 bombers over East China Sea and Sea of Japan 10 Oct and holding “training for operations to retake control of enemy-held remote islands” 14 Oct.
Japan’s defence minister 3 Sept issued statement claiming China has been unilaterally escalating its military activities in sea and air around Japan, including conducting nuclear submarine movements near waters of the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands. Japan 29 Aug scrambled fighters to intercept PLA Air Force electronic warfare and surveillance aircraft crossing Sea of Japan and East China Sea. Sankei newspaper 11 Sept reported that Japan plans to develop micro radar satellite systems to support its monitoring activities around East China Sea, including disputed islands it controls, to “cope with China’s recent ambitious maritime expansion”. Despite ongoing military friction, Sankei 1 Sept reported that PM Abe told it in interview that relations with China are now on “normal track”. At 12 Sept meeting with Abe at Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, China’s President Xi echoed Abe’s “normal track” language, while Abe said they had been “moving in the direction of great improvement.” Japan and U.S. conducted combined exercises flying B-52 bombers and fighters over East China Sea and Sea of Japan 27 Sept, drawing objection from China.
Chinese Premier Li and Japanese PM Abe 12 Aug exchanged congratulatory messages commemorating 40th anniversary of China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship; comes ahead of planned visit by Abe to Beijing in Oct. Japan’s Ministry of Defence 28 Aug published “Defence of Japan 2018 White Paper” saying “China’s rapid modernization of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army], enhancement of operational capabilities, and unilateral escalation of activities, without sufficient transparency, are generating strong security concerns”; China 29 Aug said it firmly opposed paper which was “full of slanders”. Japan’s Defence Ministry 31 Aug proposed largest budget in country’s history, with 2.1% rise and doubling of spending on missile defence.