All eyes on the "Japan - China Dialogue on Navigation Safety " Groundwork for resolving the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands issue?
In-depth dialogues between partners to find a solution
Japan and China are key economic and political partners closely associated both culturally and historically.
Positive bilateral ties will not only bring benefits to each other but also lead to peace and prosperity of East Asia
and the rest of the world.
However, recent confrontation between the two countries over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and their surrounding seas has dealt a major blow to the bilateral relationship. In order to avoid any further deterioration, it is crucial for Japan and China to take constructive steps to work toward restoring inter-governmental dialogues. It is under this philosophy that the SPF and the Peking University' s School of International Studies jointly launched the "Japan ? China Dialogue on Navigation Safety".
The initiative involves about 20 experts, including Prof. Kazuhiro Nakatani of the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Law and Politics, officials from the Japanese Defense Ministry' s National Institute for Defense Studies and Dr. Wu Shicun, President of China' s National Institute for South China Sea Studies. The panel has met for joint study sessions three times since August 2013 to conduct in-depth debates and discussions on the navigation safety and risk management measures for the said waters.
Acknowledging perception differences and making a step toward mutual understanding
In order to ensure navigational safety and risk management, the members pointed to the need to acknowledge the application of domestic laws in relation to maritime law enforcement, and differences between Japan and China in their interpretation of international laws such as the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. To avoid making misjudgment, the two countries must firstly grasp each other's perception, before determining their law enforcement forces' scope of authorities, roles and actions they can take.
Suggested risk management protocols for the Japan Coast Guard and the China Coast Guard include "paying full considerations to protect human lives and vessels," and "refraining from actions such as making a hasty arrest or unilaterally landing on the Senkaku Islands."
As for the development of mutual trust, the members pointed out that it is "important for the two countries' coast guards to have direct contact under government instructions to improve mutual communication." The panel compiled a report calling on the two governments to disclose accurate information, establish exchange between Coast Guard director generals, make security considerations such as restricting the use of weapons, and introduce a mechanism like a hotline facilitating emergency communication between vessels on the site.
Expectations for private-sector achievements to evolve into government-level talks
On January 26, the SPF held a press conference to share the outcome of the Japan ? China Dialogue on Navigation Safety. Prof. Zhu Feng of the Peking University' s School of International Studies told reporters that the initiative examined how the two countries could face reality in a practical and rational approach and resolve issues despite the lack of high-level talks between the Japanese and Chinese governments. He added that active dialogues must take place to avert possible crisis.
The SPF Chairman Jiro Hanyu said, "This is the first time a report of this kind was compiled jointly by Japan and China, albeit on the private-sector level. We were able to discuss navigational safety while acknowledging each other's point of view. We will consider submitting our findings to the governments and other entities as recommendations."
One of the most important results achieved through the dialogues was the fact that the two sides were able to put together joint measures for navigational safety in waters at and around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, despite differences in the sovereignty issue and the interpretation of international laws. Despite differences of opinions, both Japanese and Chinese members maintained a rational, realistic and open-minded stance thanks to the support of the SPF, which has remained neutral throughout the process. The attention now is on how this forum of debates, which neither governments nor business enterprises had been able to achieve, will begin to affect our society.