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Crisis management in the East China Sea
Tetsuo Kotani
SIPRI Policy Brief

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Despite their differing views on territory and history, China and Japan have resumed talks on crisis management in the East China Sea. Nonetheless, the diverging views on freedom of navigation and overflight pose a fundamental challenge to crisis management. China and Japan need to agree to a hotline between naval staff officers in charge of operations and to regular staff talks. Elements of the 1972 International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) and the 2014 Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) should form the basis of a common code of conduct. This navy–navy mechanism could also provide a foundation for a code of conduct for the two countries’ respective coast guards. Disagreements over scrambling and airspace surveillance in the East China Sea are unlikely to be easily resolved. It will be important for China and Japan to agree on talks to establish such a code of conduct in the sky despite their different interpretations of the freedom of overflight.

Additional information

This Policy Brief forms part of a series on promoting crisis management in the East China Sea.

The Introduction to the series provides background information for understanding aspects of addressing maritime security in the East China Sea from the perspective of crisis management. Specifically, it gives overarching context to the four SIPRI Policy Briefs published in February 2014 on the same topic, which focus on how to avoid collisions at sea or in the air and how to prevent escalation when incidents do occur. They document the two-year period between the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2015, which was characterized by high tension between China and Japan in relation to the East China Sea. During this time, the two countries finally agreed to resume their negotiations on a maritime crisis management mechanism, but whether they can reach a robust and sustainable agreement remains an open question.

The papers conclude a two-year project supported by the MacArthur Foundation that enabled SIPRI to host high-level track 1.5 maritime security dialogues in Stockholm with significant Chinese and Japanese participation. For this project, SIPRI also received support from the Japan Institute of International Affairs and China’s National Defence University. We express our gratitude for this support. As with all SIPRI publications, the views expressed in the four policy briefs are those of the authors.

Related publications

Bräuner, O., Chan, J. and Huijskens, F., ‘Confrontation and cooperation in the East China Sea: Chinese perspectives’, SIPRI Policy Brief, Feb. 2015.

Zhang, T., ‘Building trust between China and Japan: lessons learned from bilateral interactions in the East China Sea’, SIPRI Policy Brief, Feb. 2015.

Duchâtel, M. and Huijskens, F., ‘The European Union’s principled neutrality on the East China Sea’, SIPRI Policy Brief, Feb. 2015.


Tetsuo Kotani (Japan) is a Senior Fellow with the Japan Institute of International Affairs.

Publisher: SIPRI
8 pp.
February 2015


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