How to prevent a China-Japan clash
February 20th, 2013
09:54 AM ET

How to prevent a China-Japan clash

By Mark Valencia, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mark Valencia is a Hawaii-based maritime analyst and political commentator and author of ‘The Proliferation Security Initiative: Making waves in Asia.’ The views expressed are his own.

Enough already! Nasty rhetoric is one thing. But confrontation between warships, including the locking on of fire control radar, is downright dangerous. The implications of an outbreak of military hostilities between China and Japan are too horrific to contemplate, and clearly this level of tension and instability is unacceptable – not only for the parties directly concerned, but for their neighbors and extra-regional partners.

What is needed are some guidelines or an agreed declaration of expected behavior in disputed areas that could avert such confrontations. More specifically, China and Japan need to forge at least a rudimentary “incidents at sea agreement” – and fast!

So what is an incidents at sea agreement (INCSEA) and why would it work?  In the late 1960s, there were several incidents between the U.S. and Soviet navies, including planes of the two nations passing particularly close to one another or ships and aircraft making threatening movements – very similar to what has been happening in the East China Sea between China and Japan.

But in March 1968, the United States proposed talks on how to prevent such incidents from becoming more serious or even leading to an outright military clash.  According to the State Department, the military-to-military agreement provided for:

- Steps to avoid ship collisions

- Non-interference in the “formations” of the other party;

- Avoiding maneuvers in areas of heavy sea traffic;

- Requiring surveillance ships to maintain a safe distance from the object of investigation so as to avoid “embarrassing or endangering the ships under surveillance”;

- Using accepted international signals when ships maneuver near one another;

- Not simulating attacks at, launching objects toward, or illuminating the bridges of the other party’s ships;

–Informing vessels when submarines are exercising near them; and

- Requiring aircraft commanders to use the greatest caution and prudence in approaching aircraft and ships of the other party and refraining from simulated attacks against aircraft or ships, performing aerobatics over ships, or dropping hazardous objects near them.

The agreement appears to have helped the two sides’ militaries avoid clashes. In subsequent years, such agreements were reached between Russia and South Korea and Russia and Japan, and there is a maritime consultative agreement between the United States and China that they have now agreed to reactivate.

More from GPS: Will Japan and China go to war?

Recent developments have made it clear that an INCSEA is needed now between China and Japan.

For many years, the East China Sea was a dangerous “no man’s land.” But as I have noted before, China and Japan avoided escalating tension by refraining from extending their maritime jurisdiction and in general foregoing provocative activities. Once they extended their jurisdiction and disputes arose, they forged an ad hoc maritime conflict avoidance regime that incorporated principles of self-restraint and the sharing of resources in disputed areas. This included an agreement to share fish stocks in defined portions of their disputed area. They also agreed in principle to implement joint development of seabed resources in the central East China Sea. In addition, as I wrote in the Japan Times, after several serious incidents, they established a mutual “prior notification” regime for scientific research in their disputed area in the East China.

But this is all unraveling because of the recent resurgence of sovereignty and jurisdictional disputes.

If the two cannot quickly negotiate a military-to-military INCSEA agreement, then perhaps an agreed declaration of expected behavior would be a logical next step. But what should such a declaration cover and contain? Obviously there is a need for a clause addressing the question of arrest and detention of fishing vessels and crew of fellow claimants. It should also govern any and all other activities in disputed areas, for example, resource exploration and exploitation, marine scientific research, marine and aerial “spy probes,” and other military activities in disputed EEZs.

More from GPS: Why Asia is arguing over its islands

First and foremost, there must be a clause that states that nothing in the declaration prejudices any party’s sovereign rights or jurisdiction in the territory they claim, territorial sea, continental shelf, EEZ or their rights and responsibilities under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It should reaffirm the use of the sea only for peaceful purposes and the resolution of disputes without the threat or use of force in accordance with international law. It should also reaffirm the freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law. The parties would commit to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that might complicate or escalate disputes, including refraining from occupying presently uninhabited features.

They would also agree to negotiate provisional arrangements of a practical nature to manage and share the resources and activities in disputed areas. And they would agree to notify each other of any pending activities including military exercises in waters of interest to other parties. Outside parties would also be encouraged to adhere to the provisions of the declaration. Looking forward, the parties would agree to consider making the declaration a formal Code of Conduct.

This all may seem to be wishful thinking. Yet a similar declaration was forged in 2002 by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and agreed to by China for the South China Sea, after years of confrontation and actual conflict over similar maritime disputes.

China and Japan need to negotiate either an INCSEA or a declaration of conduct now – and implement it before this situation really gets out of hand.

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Topics: Asia • China • Japan

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Marine5484

    How to prevent a China- J apan clash? The answer is easy. Just get Russia and Canada to mediate between these two countries, but we need to stay out of this one like so many other situations around the world!

    February 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • SEANavy

      I hope you're pretty.

      February 20, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  2. deniz boro

    No comment untill acknowledged. mY COMMENT REQUİRED NO CLEVER SEARCH ON ITS CURRENCY.

    February 20, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  3. deniz boro

    ı see all world communication went haylam. But why?

    February 20, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  4. deniz boro

    Say Historical Fireworks. no one can enjoy them alone.

    February 20, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  5. j. von hettlingen

    It will be difficult to convince China and Ja pan to agree on an INCSEA, as both parties are quite intransigent. National pride and honour matter a lot in a Confucian society. Both countries share in certain degree the same values.

    February 21, 2013 at 8:01 am |
  6. DJ

    China feels the deepest sense of anger & betrayal. Personally, to allow china to feel a sense of respect and dignity, the powers to be should ask china to build a memorial on the island to represent the unfair and barbaric treatment of pre- WWII and WWII. Respect the loss china suffered. This goes very deep. If they continue to insult china. You will see horrific things.

    February 21, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Quigley

      Well said DJ, and quite true, too! Thank you.

      February 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • LandShark

      Nice try China. I know you have hordes of people pumping out propaganda all over the internet. Nobody is fooled.

      February 22, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
      • Rick Wired

        Really? Sounds like silly myth. In fact, I am not Chinese, I don't speak Chinese, I have blue eyes, and I have never lived in China, yet if I ever speak up for China, I am called "Chinese agent", "paid by the Chinese government", "commie", and all sorts of ridiculous comments. Your idea is the kind of ideas that are usually sorted under "conspiracy theories". Oh, and by the way, I like the U.S.

        February 23, 2013 at 10:18 am |
      • ambrosia

        I would suggest you to change your name to 'Landfool' instead to be appropriate by judging your silly comments!

        February 24, 2013 at 12:35 am |
      • let me in too!

        Yeah LandShark! we are all different guys....yeah really we are, even though our comments are the same followed by 2 groupy comments ....yeah its impossible to just put in a random american sounding name in the box.....China rules, USA sucks!

        February 24, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • Ridiculous Foreign Gov Minion

      well said DJ! you re right as always!

      (ps. I tried to get here sooner but was assigned to MSNBC..please dont report me!)

      February 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
  7. Tom

    Uh, peace treaty didn't stop Hitler then. So why would it stop China now?

    February 22, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • Coin pit

      during last two decades, I believe that China is peaceful love country. nobody likes war~~unless, some jerks or mental illness patient want make trouble, such as you~Just go to china and tell them what you said. I believe you will get what you want for

      February 22, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
    • David

      Tom, you are simply stupid. The JP's are real evils and you, too.

      February 23, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • Tom

      Hey you above, I'd thank you not to post your lack of knowledge about China under my name. As the true Tom here, I do have a fair knowledge of Chinese history and by seeing where that country was back in 1950 I do admire how they progressed into the modern state that it is today. Moreover, they did it without one U.S. dime in foreign aid very much unlike Western Europe which benefited from the Marshall Plan!

      February 23, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  8. paul

    Diayu island(senkaku island) does belong to Taiwan(R.O.C) because its location is the closest to taiwan,what's more,it has been the traditional fishing zone to our ancesters for many decades!

    February 22, 2013 at 11:02 am |
  9. Andrew


    February 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • han

      too bad... more than 60% of products
      even POPULATION are made by chinese

      February 23, 2013 at 4:34 am |
      • Rick Wired

        Ha, ha, ha! The comment you just made was accomplished through computer parts made in China.

        February 23, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
      • let me in too!

        China rules! America is doomed! (im right there with ya Rick! see!?)
        China invented the microchip afterall and we invented the internet too!!
        China is so advanced we will have your designs copyed and in production before they even clear you patent office!
        who needs property riughts anyway? Money is all that matters... nobody beats Asians at capitalism...nobody!...we sell our own children (even mothers in extreme cases) can America hopeto compete with that level of dedication?

        Give up already!

        February 24, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  10. najania

    Nice article. In addition, the island sovereignty issue needs to be re-shelved.

    February 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
  11. Deutsche Bier

    There will be no clash if the US does not interfere.

    February 23, 2013 at 12:58 am |
    • let me in too!

      quite right!.... If the US doesnt get involved China will peacefully take these Islands from J apan! Because the J apanese have always backed down from a fight!..... says so in our history books here in China anyway.......

      February 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  12. Robin

    Want to know how to prevent a clash? Just send over your J (ap) women over here instead of having us at a military base over there to have access to them. I mean, your women don't even like you anyways. Then we'll protect you from Asia. Problem solved!

    February 23, 2013 at 3:52 am |
  13. Roland

    Lesson 1 of understanding China they don't take orders or listen to foreigners including the USA.Lesson 2 they like most confusion cultures are all about force and discipline.Wacking the other guy in the face and cruelly dominating and humiliating the subordinated.For whatever reason they get off on this in a huge way,hard task masters.

    February 23, 2013 at 12:22 pm |

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