SHANGHAI -- Japan and China reported progress Wednesday toward creating communication channels meant to prevent accidental maritime run-ins between their forces, with both countries aiming to conclude a deal next year.
Neither government elaborated on the headway made during high-level discussions here, but a source familiar with the talks cited mutual confirmation of their direction on key issues. The so-called maritime and air communication mechanism would include agreement on common radio frequencies to be used by ships and planes in an emergency.
Talks had bogged down as China opposed Japan's insistence on excluding territorial waters from the mechanism. But at Wednesday's meeting, officials confirmed they would not seek to demarcate the communication arrangements based on the extent of territorial waters, a source said.
Both sides will take the proposal back to their governments. Tokyo and Beijing seek to conclude an agreement in the first half of 2018. A formal signing could take place during a visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Japan or a trip to China by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Japan had worried that applying the communication arrangements to territorial waters could let Chinese warships abuse the system when sailing near the East China Sea's Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyu. But Chinese ships already may enter Japanese waters under established international rules of naval conduct. Tokyo seems to have pivoted in favor of achieving results on crisis management and prevention as well as improving bilateral relations.
A communication mechanism has been proposed for several years. China began working toward a deal in earnest during the summer, sources say. Abe's calls for better Sino-Japanese relations and his repeated meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping may have prompted a change of heart in Beijing.
Japan wants to work toward concluding an agreement "at the earliest possible time," Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday. "I don't think that there are big barriers remaining," he added.