The urgent need for improved crisis communications mechanisms between China and Japan has been driven home by a number of incidents between the two countries. For example, in January 2013 a Chinese navy vessel directed a fire-control radar at a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer. A little over a year later, in May and June 2014, two Chinese military fighter aircraft flew unusually close to Japanese military aircraft. These incidents could have led to a much wider conflagration, particularly in the absence of a crisis communications mechanism.
For over a decade, confrontation over maritime administration and transit has increased the risk of security incidents between Japan and China. Disputes over territorial incursions, military movements and other activities have maintained consistent friction points between these regional neighbors, begging the question of how the two sides might mitigate tactical-level incidents from becoming strategic-level crises. To that end, on May 16, the two countries’ defense ministers held their first phone call across the newly established “Hotline between Japan-China Defense Authorities.” This culminated a years-long effort to establish a viable line of communication for information exchange and crisis management.
While last week’s summit of U.S., South Korean and Japanese leaders may have been historic, the three countries hope “to really institutionalize trilateral cooperation going forward” through joint diplomatic and security initiatives that present “a stronger, united front” in the Indo-Pacific, says USIP's Mirna Galic.
To increase understanding of these changes and their impacts, USIP convened a working group consisting of experts from NATO countries and from NATO’s formal partner countries in the Indo-Pacific: Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, which are informally known as the Indo-Pacific Four (or IP4).
In today’s era of strategic competition between the United States and China, crises are more likely than ever in the Indo-Pacific region. Effective mechanisms are therefore needed to prevent such crises from escalating into armed conflict. To this end, USIP is examining crisis communication mechanisms and negotiations between China and its regional neighbors to identify common issues and themes across countries to provide lessons that can be learned and shared.
South Korea and Japan normalized relations in 1965, but unresolved historical disputes continue to undermine genuine bilateral reconciliation and optimal diplomatic, security and economic cooperation. Past efforts, both between the two countries and trilaterally with the United States, to help improve relations have generally emphasized a “future-oriented” approach that focused on common security and economic interests.