Japan and China launch hotline amid military tensions

The defense ministers of Japan and China launched a long-awaited hotline on Tuesday as a confidence-building and communication-enhancing measure, as Japan and neighboring countries show concern over Beijing’s increasingly assertive military activities.

 The relationship between China and Japan in the last five years

Over the past five years, the relationship between Japan and China has been marked by a complex interplay of cooperation, competition, and diplomatic tensions. Both countries are major regional powers in East Asia, and their interactions significantly affect the region’s stability and dynamics.

In recent years, efforts have been made to improve bilateral relations between Japan and China. High-level exchanges and diplomatic dialogues have taken place, aimed at fostering cooperation on various fronts such as trade, investment, and cultural exchanges. 

Economic ties have strengthened, with increased trade volume and investment flows between the two countries. Additionally, joint initiatives have been in areas such as environmental protection, disaster management, and tourism.

However, despite these positive developments, there have also been persistent challenges and contentious issues that have strained the relationship. One major point of contention is the territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

Japan and China claim sovereignty over these islands, leading to frequent maritime and aerial encounters between their respective defense forces. These disputes have resulted in heightened tensions and occasional escalations, creating a risk of unintended conflict.

Historical issues related to Japan’s actions during World War II have also been a source of tension. Chinese concerns over Japan’s handling of wartime history, including issues such as apologies and commemorations, have periodically strained bilateral relations.

Moreover, China’s assertive actions in the South China Sea, where it has been involved in territorial disputes with multiple countries, including Japan’s ally, the Philippines, have added to the complexities of the Japan-China relationship. 

Japan has voiced concerns over China’s assertiveness and unilateral actions, emphasizing the importance of upholding international law and promoting peace and stability in the region.

Despite these challenges, both countries have recognized the importance of maintaining stable relations due to their economic interdependence and shared regional interests. Diplomatic channels remain open, and efforts to manage and mitigate disputes through dialogue and negotiation continue. 

However, the relationship between Japan and China remains a delicate balance between cooperation and competition, influenced by various geopolitical factors and domestic considerations on both sides.

As the regional dynamics in East Asia evolve, the future of Japan-China relations will continue to be shaped by factors such as geopolitical shifts, economic developments, and the ability of both countries to address and manage contentious issues constructively and peacefully.

Japan and China united by direct line.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu held an approximately 20-minute conversation via the newly established hotline on March 31, the Japanese Defense Ministry reported.

Both ministers celebrated the beginning of the operation of the direct line. They highlighted the importance of the “maritime and air communication mechanism,” which includes this new route, as a means to foster mutual trust and avoid possible contingencies.

Territorial disputes and tensions

Tokyo and Beijing are locked in a dispute over Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. China has frequently dispatched Coast Guard ships and planes into the waters and airspace surrounding the islands, causing inconvenience to Japanese vessels.

In addition, the Chinese naval fleet regularly conducts joint exercises with Russia near the Japanese shores, which irritates Tokyo. The growing tension around the self-government of Taiwan, claimed by China as part of its territory and threatened to annex it by force if necessary, also worries Japan.

The importance of honest communication

Hamada stressed the need for sincere communication between both sides, especially when Japan-China relations are not optimal. He highlighted the importance of an open and constructive dialogue in territorial disputes.

Hamada and Li verified the correct operation of the hotline and agreed to maintain constant communication between the respective defense authorities.

The idea of ​​establishing a hotline was initially agreed upon in 2018 between then-Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Li Keqiang as a measure to prevent potential incidents between their armed forces.