Chinese and Japanese officials have traded accusations during virtual talks, but they also agreed to improve communication – including by speeding up efforts to set up a defence hotline – amid rising tensions.
Beijing warned Tokyo against meddling in Chinese territorial matters, especially over Taiwan , during Monday’s meeting on maritime issues between foreign affairs, defence, energy and fisheries officials from the two sides.
Claiming Japanese joint military drills with the United States and others in the East and South China seas undermined air and maritime security in the region, Beijing also “made representations on Japan’s wrong words and deeds on the Taiwan Strait”, according to the Chinese foreign ministry readout.
It coincided with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi , in a speech on Monday, accusing the US and other countries of trying to “use the Taiwan question to contain China” by seeking closer ties with the island.
Beijing sees self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory to be brought under its control, by force if necessary.
Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe warned in early December that Tokyo and Washington could not stand by if Beijing attacked Taiwan. Beijing reacted furiously, summoning Japanese ambassador Hideo Tarumi for a dressing-down over Abe’s “brazen support” for Taiwan’s independent forces.
Tokyo officials also lodged a protest at Monday’s talks, saying Chinese ships had made repeated intrusions into Japan’s waters around the Senkaku Islands, Japanese news agency Jiji Press reported.
The uninhabited islets in the East China Sea are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu Islands.
The Japanese officials also raised concern over Chinese and Russian warships sailing near the disputed islands in a joint patrol in October.
Tokyo has long protested against Chinese coastguard activities in the area, especially after China passed a law early this year that allows its coastguard to fire on foreign vessels in disputed waters.
Despite the tensions, the two sides agreed on steps to increase communication and cooperation, including expediting efforts to set up a hotline between their militaries.
They also vowed to “properly manage … maritime contradictions and differences” and “make the East China Sea become a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship”, according to the Chinese readout.
China and Japan have talked for years about a defence hotline to keep communication open and avoid misjudgment and potential clashes.
A separate communication mechanism between military authorities was launched in 2018, which listed the hotline as a priority task.
A year ago, Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe and his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi also agreed to move faster on setting up the hotline amid China’s worsening ties with Japan, the US and their allies.
During his visit to Japan last year, Foreign Minister Wang also pledged, with his then Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi, to launch the hotline within the year.
But according to Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia programme at the German Marshall Fund in the US, the military hotline will be “of limited utility” in managing tensions around the Diaoyus since it will not cover coastguard vessels.
The high-level consultation on maritime affairs has been held by China and Japan annually since 2012 and involves four working groups on politics and law, maritime defence, maritime law enforcement and security, and maritime economy.
In a sign of deteriorating ties, the politics and law session was been suspended since it was last held in 2019.