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Chinese military must strictly adhere to new code of conduct on safety at sea

Publication Date : 25-04-2014

 

An important accord has been reached urging the Chinese military to refrain from any risky, threatening acts and prevent unexpected accidents and collisions at sea.

At the Western Pacific Naval Symposium being held in China, senior naval officials from 21 countries, including Japan, the United States and China, adopted the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, a code of conduct prohibiting such dangerous acts as locking weaponry radar on other countries’ military vessels.

The code outlines the procedures by which navy ships and aircraft must make radio communication and take safety measures when they come into contact with each other on or above the sea. It also stipulates a list of five actions to be avoided, including targeting missiles at or conducting mock attacks near foreign naval vessels.

The accord is not legally binding, and contains rules and procedures that are considered to be extremely conventional by the naval forces of countries other than China. However, it is quite significant that international rules to ensure safety in open waters have been stipulated under a multinational framework that includes China.

In January last year, a Chinese frigate locked its radar on a Maritime Self-Defence Force destroyer in the East China Sea. Chinese naval vessels have also repeatedly taken provocative actions against such countries as the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea. Even the slightest error could lead to an accident or conflict.

The Chinese Navy has hitherto been wary about having restrictions placed on its activities with the adoption of such a code of conduct at sea. Now that it has been instrumental in the adoption of the code as the conference chair, China has a responsibility to strictly enforce the code among all its units and cooperate with other countries in ensuring navigation safety in the Pacific.

Rules with broad reach

With the adoption of the code, it is important to steadily expand rules to prevent unexpected accidents.

In June 2012, defense authorities of Japan and China reached a broad accord on building a “maritime communication mechanism,” including the establishment of a hotline for senior uniformed officials of both countries. However, the Chinese side objected to Japan’s nationalization of part of the Senkaku Islands in September 2012, and the bilateral talks were stalled, with the two sides failing to reach a formal accord.

The establishment of a maritime liaison mechanism will also benefit China. Though China has been unwilling to comply, Japan must persist in dialogue with China so that both sides can reach an accord at the earliest possible time.

Members of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations aim to upgrade a 2002 “declaration of conduct” for peacefully handling disputes in the South China Sea to a legally binding code of conduct. Beijing, however, remains negative on the prospect.

Japan must support Asean in this regard in cooperation with the United States and other countries.

China had planned to host an international naval review to coincide with the symposium, but did not invite the MSDF vessels to the review. The US Navy was upset by this development and decided not to send any of its warships to the fleet review. As a result, the review was canceled.

The relationship of trust nurtured over many years between the MSDF and the US Navy has brought China’s efforts to exclude Japan to a standstill. China’s stance of unilaterally adopting a policy hostile toward Japan will give more credence to the idea in the international community that China is not like other nations.

 

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