CHINA and Japan must set up a communication hotline to avoid the risk of an accidental military clash in the East China Sea, the US has warned. Tensions are continuing to rise between the two Asian rivals over a new Chinese air defence zone.
Joe Biden, the US vice-president, called for the improved communications between the two powers a week after China had angered the US by unilaterally declaring the air identification zone in what was widely read as a worrying sign of Chinese muscle-flexing in the region.
"We, the United States, are deeply concerned by the attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea," Mr Biden said in Tokyo.
Standing beside the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, Mr Biden added: "This action has raised regional tension and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculations."
With China and Japan now routinely scrambling jets over the disputed islands in the East China Sea and having stand-offs between military coastguard vessels, Western diplomats in Beijing fear that the threat of an accidental engagement is rising sharply.
"This underscores the need for crisis-management mechanisms and effective channels of communication between China and Japan to reduce risk of escalation," Mr Biden said, highlighting concern over the absence of a military hotline to help prevent a war being started by mistake.
Mr Biden will land in Beijing today and has promised to reiterate Washington's position, which was already made clear last week by the decision to fly two B-52 bombers through the Chinese zone, deliberately ignoring Chinese demands for flights to identify themselves.
"I will be raising these concerns, in great specificity, directly when I meet with the Chinese leadership," Mr Biden added.
The Chinese decision to announce its identification zone – which crosses an established Japanese zone and covers the disputed Senkaku islands – has infuriated both the US and China's neighbours in the East and South China Seas.
Washington does not take a position in relation to the islands' sovereignty, but it does recognise Tokyo's administrative control, which means that it would stand by treaty obligations to help defend the islands from attack.
Tensions in the region have ratcheted up, causing South Korea to announce that it was preparing an air defence identification zone of its own in response to China's move.
On Monday, China's ambassador to the Philippines said Beijing had the right to declare a similar air defence zone over the South China Sea – putting it into potential conflict with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Mr Biden will arrive in the South Korean capital Seoul tomorrow as officials put the finishing touches to plans for its expanded zone.
The move is likely to be controversial, with the Ieodo Ocean Research Station reportedly built on a submerged rock formation in the exclusive economic zone overlapping South Korea and China. (© Daily Telegraph, London)