China and Japan have agreed to establish a communications hotline between defense ministries after the two countries held virtual bilateral talks on Monday.
In a statement, the Chinese Defense Ministry said that two sides will establish a direct telephone line under the sea and air liaison mechanism “in a bid to build a constructive and stable bilateral relationship.”
The decision was made when Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe held video talks with Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi late Monday.
Pointing to the importance of Japan as China’s neighbor and “cooperative partner,” Wei told the Japanese counterpart: “China will firmly safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”
The statement comes amid tensions between the countries over disputed islets in the East China Sea.
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan.
“The two sides should follow the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries to enhance strategic mutual trust, handle differences properly and achieve win-win cooperation,” the Chinese defense minister said.
The ministers discussed issues over the East China Sea, the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Taiwan Strait, and other regional issues in the meeting that lasted for about two hours.
“Since there are (unresolved) issues with China, we need to try and keep having candid communication so we can promote exchanges and foster mutual understanding and confidence,” Kishi told reporters after the virtual meeting.
Japan expressed “extreme grave concern” over Chinese coast guard ships’ activities in waters surrounding the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and calls Diaoyu, Kishi added.
However, the Chinese defense minister called on the two sides “to bear in mind the big picture of bilateral relations and make joint efforts to maintain stability in the East China Sea.”
“On historical issues, Japan should face history squarely and learn from history, which is the correct attitude and wise choice,” he told Kishi.
“The defense departments of both sides should strengthen high-level exchanges and practical cooperation, further expand the content of the sea and air liaison mechanism, jointly control risks, prevent the escalation of conflicts, and continuously improve the level of defense cooperation,” Wei said.
In a Twitter statement, the Japanese defense minister said he “opposed unilateral attempts to change the status quo”, referring to activities of Chinese vessels.
He also sought an explanation from the Chinese side on its new coast guard law which China implemented on Feb. 1.
The law allows the Chinese coast guard “to use weapons against foreign ships that it deems as illegally entering its waters.”