East China Sea is Japan's Top Security Challenge

Commentary | January 21, 2016

In a piece for Nikkei Asian Review, Jonathan Miller, EWI's China, East Asia and United States fellow discusses the East China Sea and the potential threat for Japan if tensions increase in the region. 

Tensions in the South China Sea have been in the international spotlight over the past few months. In Japan, there has been significant debate over the country's potential role as a U.S. regional ally in ensuring freedom of navigation and the promotion of a rules-based order in the region. But while the South China Sea continues to be an important regional issue, the potential for increased tensions in the East China Sea remains the most important security challenge for Japan.

Last year witnessed a small improvement in the strained relationship between Japan and China. Following an "ice-breaker" meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met in Jakarta in April during another international meeting. These bilateral meetings were followed by the official resumption of the Trilateral Leaders' Summit, which also involves South Korea. During the Trilateral meeting, Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made time to meet on bilateral issues.

These high-level encounters have broken the deadlock between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. At a practical level, the meetings have resulted in high-level commitments by Tokyo and Beijing to push forward the implementation of a crisis management mechanism in the East China Sea to avoid unintended clashes, either in the sea or the skies above. This was agreed during the Abe-Xi meeting in November 2014 and has been reinforced by several working-level meetings since that time. High-level maritime talks have resumed and both sides have re-engaged in a bilateral security dialogue.

To read the entire article on Nikkei Asian Review, click here