At present, China-U.S. and China-Japan security relations are facing extremely and relatively great security risks, respectively. Strengthening crisis management has become the primary and strategic task in China-U.S. and China-Japan security relations. If crisis management is ineffective and security frictions lead to military crises or even military conflicts, China-U.S. relations will inevitably move towards full confrontation; China-Japan relations may once again lose opportunities for improvement and development and fall back into tension and confrontation.
Since the end of the Cold War, China-U.S.-Japan security relations have become the most important group of trilateral security relations concerning peace, stability, and development in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. Specifically, China-U.S. and China-Japan security relations have faced ups and downs and have had a great influence on one another. At present, with the great changes in the international situation, these two groups of relations have entered a critical moment.
At the end of 2017, as the Trump administration of the United States made major adjustments to its China policy, the United States began to apply pressure on China in various fields such as politics, economics, S&T, military security, and people-to-people and cultural exchanges, resulting in a serious deterioration of China-U.S. relations. At present, China-U.S. security relations are facing high risks. Once a crisis breaks out, it will be extremely difficult to manage and control. Under this situation, strengthening crisis management has become the top priority in China-U.S. security relations and a strategic task for the two countries to avoid entering into a cold war or even a hot war.
Quite unlike China-U.S. relations, after years of serious deterioration and fierce collisions and with the joint efforts of both parties, China-Japan relations returned to a normal development track in 2018. However, the security relationship is still the weakest bond in the relationship between China and Japan, and the situation of high security risks on both sides has not fundamentally changed; negative factors in security relations are on the rise yet again. Under this situation, strengthening crisis management has also become the primary task in the security relationship between China and Japan; its success or failure will have a decisive impact on whether the overall relationship between China and Japan can continue to develop in the direction of stability and improvement.
This paper first discusses the differences, frictions, and risks in the China-U.S. and China-Japan security relations, analyzes the serious harm they may bring to bilateral relations, and points out the extreme importance of China-U.S. and China-Japan strengthening of crisis management. Secondly, it analyzes and compares the situations of crisis management awareness, crisis management mechanism construction, and security and defense dialogues between China and the United States and China and Japan and clarifies the direction of efforts by China and the United States and China and Japan to strengthen crisis management. Finally, based on the above analysis, some policy suggestions are put forward on how to strengthen the crisis management between China and the United States and China and Japan.
I. China-U.S. and China-Japan security risks and the necessity and urgency of strengthening crisis management
(i) China-U.S. security risks and the necessity of strengthening crisis management
Since the end of 2017, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, China-U.S. relations have experienced a comprehensive and serious deterioration. At present, the most striking are the trade war, tech war, and diplomatic war between China and the United States, as well as the possibility of “comprehensive decoupling” and the “political and ideological battle” between the two countries. However, the greatest risk is the military security friction between the two sides. If China and the United States cannot manage this effectively, China and the United States may not only have a military crisis but may even have a serious military conflict.
At present, the greatest security risk between China and the United States lies in the Taiwan Strait. This is not only because cross-Strait relations have deteriorated again since 2016, and the views of China and the United States on the DPP Tsai Ing-wen regime are severely opposed, but also because the United States has been playing the “Taiwan card” to exert pressure on China. Under this situation, the situation in the Taiwan Strait has entered the most dangerous moment since the end of the Cold War. In the past three years, PLA military planes and warships have repeatedly flown and sailed around the island of Taiwan to implement military deterrence against “Taiwan independence” and external interfering forces. With the obvious intensification of military operations between China and the United States in the Taiwan Strait, the possibility of a military crisis or military conflict in the Taiwan Strait due to misjudgment or miscalculation has risen sharply. The bigger risk is that if the “Taiwan independence” forces and foreign intervening forces openly cross the red line set by China’s Anti-Secession Law, China will be forced to use non-peaceful means, including military means, to fight against separatism. Under this situation, China and the United States may fall into military conflict or even war in the Taiwan Strait.
The second major risk in the China-U.S. security relationship is military friction in the South China Sea. In recent years, while the United States has publicly intervened in disputes over sovereignty and rights between China and its neighbors, as it continues to strengthen military reconnaissance of China’s approaching, intensifying the “Freedom of Navigation Operation” (FONOP) in the waters surrounding Chinese-owned islands and reefs in the South China Sea, and frequently dispatching more strategic weapons platforms, including aircraft carriers, into and out of the South China Sea, it has also held several joint military operations and large-scale joint military exercises with its allies in the South China Sea. Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement on the South China Sea in 2019, completely denying China’s claims to sovereignty and rights and interests in the South China Sea, in an attempt to intensify maritime disputes between China and relevant countries in the South China Sea and undermine the negotiation between China and ASEAN countries to establish the South China Sea code of conduct and joint efforts to maintain stability in the South China Sea. Under this severe situation, the PLA has vigorously strengthened the surveillance and expulsion of U.S. ships and aircraft that conduct close-in reconnaissance and FONOPs in the South China Sea and has conducted more military exercises, including missile test launches, in the South China Sea.
It must also be pointed out that, whether in the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea, although the U.S. military has continuously proposed that it is willing to strengthen crisis communication and management with the PLA, the U.S. government has adopted an approach of near-maximum pressure on China politically, diplomatically, and militarily. This greatly increases the risk of military crises and conflicts between the two sides.
In addition, in the China-U.S. security relationship, a long list of actual and potential risks can also be drawn: For example, the nuclear dialogue between the United States and the DPRK has completely broken down, and the situation on the peninsula has grown ever tenser; the United States and its allies have strengthened their anti-missile deployment against China in East Asia; the United States deploys land-based intermediate-range and low-yield tactical nuclear weapons in the Asia-Pacific; outer space and cyber security incidents have occurred between China and the United States; there is an arms race between China and the United States in the development of non-nuclear strategic weapons, AI weapons, and hypersonic weapons; there have been maritime incidents with China and Japan.
After the end of the Cold War, the Taiwan Strait crisis broke out between China and the United States from 1995 to 1996, and then in 1999 and 2001, the embassy bombing and aircraft collision occurred successively. Since the China-U.S. relationship was mainly based on contact and cooperation at that time, and both sides paid attention to the overall situation of the relationship between the two countries, the three crises were relieved relatively quickly. In the period after 2012, with the escalation of the North Korean nuclear crisis and the maritime crises between China, Japan, and the Philippines, the risk of China and the United States being involved in crises and conflicts due to third-party factors has increased significantly but the risk of a direct military crisis between the two countries is small. However, the current situation has changed significantly. China-U.S. relations have changed from a “cooperation-competition” relationship to a seriously unbalanced “competition-cooperation” relationship. Even in the “strategic competition relationship,” confrontation factors between the two countries have increased significantly. Military and security frictions between the two sides continue to intensify, military dialogues and exchanges are rapidly declining, and the security relationship is seriously deteriorating. Under such circumstances, if China-U.S. military security frictions trigger a military crisis, the risk of a military conflict will be greatly increased, and crisis management will be much more difficult than in the past. Moreover, once the military crisis gets out of control, a military conflict may quickly plunge China-U.S. relations into the abyss of a “new cold war.”
In the face of a very serious security situation, military leaders of China and the United States have agreed to strengthen risk and crisis management, maintain dialogue and exchanges, and make the relationship between the two militaries a “stabilizing force” or “stabilizer” for the relationship between the two countries. This is the effort made by the Chinese and American militaries to maintain the bottom line of “no conflict and no confrontation” between the two sides. As of 2019, the militaries of the two countries still maintain a number of dialogues and exchanges, such as the China-U.S. maritime military security consultation, the China-U.S. Asia-Pacific security dialogue, and the China-U.S. Defense Policy Coordination Talks (DPCT).
However, the outbreak of the global pandemic in 2020 and the accelerated deterioration of the relations between the two countries have not only brought the dialogue between the two militaries to a standstill but also further increased the military confrontation and various security frictions between the two sides in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.
In 2020, in a public video speech, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper criticized and accused China while also expressing his hope to visit China in 2020 to “establish a necessary crisis communication system” with China. Shortly thereafter, the defense ministers of China and the United States had a 90-minute phone call. During the call, the two sides had serious opposing positions, but both stated that they would maintain communication and consultation and strengthen risk and crisis management. This interaction shows from another perspective that the task of strengthening crisis management between China and the United States has become extremely urgent.
(ii) China-Japan security risks and the necessity of strengthening crisis management
After years of serious friction and difficulties, China-Japan relations have returned to the normal development track marked by the official exchange of visits between the leaders of the two countries in 2018. In 2019, China-Japan relations continued to improve. The leaders of the two countries successfully met in Osaka, and the two sides reached an important consensus on building a China-Japan relationship that meets the requirements of the new era, explicitly proclaiming to “actively promote the building of constructive bilateral security relations and gradually establish a solid strategic mutual benefit and mutual trust.” According to the plan, in the spring of 2020, President Xi Jinping will make an official visit to Japan, at which time the two sides may issue a fifth political document as China-Japan relations are expected to enter a new stage of development.
However, the outbreak of the global pandemic in 2020 and the accelerated deterioration of China-U.S. relations have brought serious obstacles to the further improvement and development of China-Japan relations. President Xi’s visit to Japan has been postponed indefinitely; the Olympic cooperation between the two sides has stalled; the two sides’ determination to strengthen economic, trade and investment cooperation, including third-party cooperation, has been severely affected by the closure and isolation measures adopted by both sides in response to the pandemic. In this situation, the negative factors between China and Japan, especially the differences and friction in the security field, are on the rise again.
In March 2020, a Japanese warship collided with a Chinese fishing boat in the East China Sea. Since May, Chinese and Japanese law enforcement ships have had many frictions in the waters of the Diaoyu Islands, and the Japanese media once hyped it up. At the end of June, the Ishigaki City Council of Japan passed a resolution to change the name of the administrative division of the Diaoyu Islands and its affiliated islands (called “Senkaku Islands” in Japan) to “Tonoshirosenkaku,” and the new name will officially take effect on October 1, 2020. In late July, Japanese media claimed that Japan had found a Chinese official ship in the area adjacent to the Diaoyu Islands for 100 consecutive days, setting a record for the longest consecutive days since September 2012. According to this, Japanese scholars criticized China for taking advantage of the pandemic to carry out “maritime expansion.”
In fact, the stability and improvement of China-Japan relations in recent years has been relatively fragile. The improvement of economic relations between the two sides is the most obvious, the improvement of political relations and political atmosphere is second, and as the improvement of security relations is quite limited, the security risk remains high.
First, none of the maritime disputes between China and Japan have been resolved. These disputes include territorial sovereignty disputes over the ownership of the Diaoyu Islands, delimitation of the East China Sea Exclusive Economic Zone and resource disputes, the air game formed by the large overlap of the air defense identification zones of the two countries, the friction between the Chinese navy and air force entering the Western Pacific through the international channel of the Japanese archipelago and the Japan Sea and Air Self-Defense Force, as well as the disputes and frictions between the two sides on the South China Sea issue. Under this situation, the risk of maritime incidents between China and Japan still exists.
Secondly, it will be difficult to mitigate the potential for a military confrontation that has formed between China and Japan in the near term. After the two Diaoyu Islands crises in 2010 and 2012, Japan began to clearly regard China as a major security threat, and the deployment of troops accelerated from north to southwest; China also vigorously strengthened preparations for military confrontation in the East China Sea. Over the years, the military confrontation between China and Japan has been fully reflected in defense policies, defense budgets, and military deployments of the two countries. In addition, the two sides still have “strategic mutual doubts,” and the military confrontation between China and Japan will be difficult to swiftly resolve despite the improvement of the overall relationship between the two countries.
Thirdly, the serious deterioration of the situation in the Taiwan Strait will bring severe challenges to China-Japan relations. For a long time, Japan has always had strong pro-Taiwan forces, and the Taiwan issue has always been one of the three points of friction between China and Japan. In recent years, as the situation in the Taiwan Strait has worsened and become increasingly tense, the possibility of a military crisis or even a military conflict between China and the United States in the Taiwan Strait has continued to rise. As the main military ally of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan is likely to be involved in the Taiwan Strait crisis or even a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
Finally, the trend of Japan and the United States to continue to strengthen military alliances and cooperation will further increase the security friction between China and Japan. In January 2019, Japan officially decided to introduce two land-based Aegis Combat Systems from the United States. In April of the same year, Japan and the United States confirmed that they would strengthen cooperation in outer space and cyber security and confirmed that Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty applies to the space and cyber fields. In 2019, after the United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, it proposed to deploy intermediate-range missiles in East Asia, which is different from the attitude of South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia, which refused to deploy. Japan was ambiguous on this. In June 2020, due to technical and cost considerations, the Japanese government decided to abandon the deployment plan of the ground-based Aegis anti-missile system, but immediately began to discuss whether Japan should have the ability to attack enemy bases. Under such circumstances, senior U.S. officials publicly suggested that Japan would be a candidate for the United States to deploy an intermediate-range missile system in Asia. In August of the same year, Japanese media reported that Japan and the United States would further develop a joint anti-missile system and jointly build a defense network for missile detection and tracking consisting of thousands of small satellites. These small satellites would run in low orbits 300-1000 kilometers from the ground. In the next two years, if Japan agrees to U.S. deployment of a ground-based intermediate missile system on its territory and to further strengthen Japan-U.S. anti-missile cooperation, it will surely bring new serious troubles and challenges to China-Japan security relations.
最后，日美继续加强军事同盟合作的趋势将进一步加大中日之间的安全摩擦。2019年1 月，日本正式决定从美国引进两套陆基“宙斯盾”反导系统(Aegis Combat System)。同年4月日美确认将加强双方在外空、网络安全上的合作，并确认《日美安全保障条约》第五条适用于太空和网络领域。2019年美退出中导条约后提出将在东亚部署中导，与韩菲澳三国谢绝部署的态度不同，日本对此态度暧昧。2020年6月，出于技术和成本方面的考虑，日本政府决定放弃陆基“宙斯盾”反导系统部署计划，但随即开始讨论日本是否应拥有攻击敌方基地的能力。在此形势下，美国高官公开提出日本将是美在亚洲部署中导系统的候选地。同年8月日本媒体报道，日本将与美国进一步发展联合反导系统，共同打造由上千颗小卫星组成的探测、追踪导弹的防御网络，这些小卫星在距离地面300—1000公里的低轨道中运行。未来两年，日本如果同意美国在其领土部署陆基中导系统并进一步加强日美反导合作，必将给中日安全关系带来新的严重困扰与挑战。
In conclusion, although China-Japan relations have improved and developed substantially in the past two years, the improvement is still fragile and unbalanced, and the risk of security relations is still very high given new developments in 2020. Under this situation, strengthening crisis management, especially crisis prevention, must be the top priority in China-Japan security relations. Otherwise, even if the two countries face major challenges such as the Taiwan Strait crisis, and even if the two sides have unexpected incidents at sea, the atmosphere for the improvement of China-Japan relations may be quickly reversed, and the development of bilateral relations will once again face serious setbacks.
From the above, three basic points can be drawn.
First, the current China-U.S. and China-Japan security relations are facing great and greater security risks respectively. If they cannot be managed effectively, China-U.S. relations may move towards confrontation and conflict; China-Japan relations may once again lose the opportunity to improve relations and may result in tensions and deterioration.
Second, since the United States and Japan are allies, no matter whether a military crisis or military conflict occurs between China and the United States or between China and Japan, it will have a serious negative impact on the security relationship of the other pair. That is, when one pair of security relations is in crisis, the other pair cannot be expected to develop smoothly. In the current situation of tense security relations between China and the United States and China and Japan, a worse situation can occur. That is, when one pair of relations is in crisis and conflict, the other pair of relations will also be quickly dragged into crisis and conflict.
Third, in order to avoid the above-mentioned prospects, both China and the United States and China and Japan must attach great importance to strengthening crisis management in the current and long-term future and must regard crisis management as the primary task in the field of military security.
II. Crisis management awareness, crisis management mechanism construction, and security and defense dialogue between China and the United States and China and Japan
In the field of security, the awareness of security crisis management mainly refers to the awareness of crisis prevention and crisis avoidance, the awareness of non-zero-sum games and necessary compromises for the overall good, and in particular, the awareness to prevent crises from escalating out of control, triggering military conflicts and wars.
Crisis management mechanism construction is the concentrated reflection and manifestation of crisis management awareness. A crisis management mechanism consists of internal, bilateral, and multilateral mechanisms; the specific contents of the latter two mainly include crisis communication and liaison mechanism, military mutual trust mechanisms, and military and security codes of conduct. A sound crisis management mechanism is an important tool and guarantee for effective crisis management. This article mainly discusses the situation of China-U.S. and China-Japan bilateral crisis management mechanism construction.
Security and defense dialogues are necessary means of handling differences and carrying out crisis management, including establishing crisis management mechanisms, reducing misunderstandings and misjudgments, and conducting crisis consultations and negotiations. Some dialogues themselves have the role of crisis management.
The above three aspects, namely crisis management awareness, crisis management mechanism construction, and security and defense dialogues, are all crucial for China, the United States, and Japan to strengthen crisis management in the new situation.
(i) Crisis management awareness, crisis management mechanism construction, and security and defense dialogues between China and the United States
After the end of the Cold War, the awareness of crisis management between China and the United States has been continuously strengthened.
In the early days of the Cold War, China and the United States were in a state of hostility, and the two countries had experienced many military crises, military conflicts, and even wars. The most famous of these are the Korean War of 1950-1953, the two Taiwan Strait crises of 1954-1955 and 1958, and the Vietnam War of 1964-1973. During this period, both China and the United States experienced military conflicts and wars and put crisis management into practice. In the second half of the Cold War, China and the United States jointly responded to the threat of Soviet hegemony and became security partners. The two militaries gradually established an exchange framework with high-level mutual visits, professional counterpart exchanges, and military-technical cooperation as the main content.
However, with the occurrence of political turmoil in 1989 (when the United States decided to impose comprehensive sanctions on China, the military and security exchanges between the two sides were terminated), the end of the Cold War, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the security differences and frictions between China and the United States were re-emphasized. Since the early 1990s, there has been the U.S. sale of 160 F16 fighter jets to Taiwan (1992), the “Galaxy Incident” (1993), the Taiwan Strait Crisis (1995-1996), and the “bombing incident” in Yugoslavia (1999), and the South China Sea “aircraft collision” (2001). Under this situation, crisis management has been quickly put on the agenda of both China and the United States, and the awareness of crisis management between the two sides has also been continuously strengthened. After entering the second decade of the 21st century, with the rapid growth of China’s comprehensive national strength, the friction and competition between China and the United States have become more prominent, and the awareness of crisis management between the two sides has also further increased.
In 1997, China and the United States decided to establish a summit hotline, which was opened the following year. In 1998, the defense agencies of China and the United States signed the Agreement on Establishing a Consultation Mechanism to Strengthen Military Maritime Safety. In the same year, the two heads of state announced that China and the United States would not target each other’s strategic nuclear weapons. In 2007, the defense agencies of the two countries reached an agreement on the establishment of a military hotline, which opened in 2008. In 2014, the defense ministers of China and the United States signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Notification of Major Military Activities Confidence-Building Measures Mechanism and the Memorandum of Understanding on the Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters. In 2015, the two sides signed two new appendices to the two memorandums, Military Crisis Notifications and Air Encounters. In 2016, China and the United States established a direct hotline for combating cybercrime and related matters. In 2018, the Chinese and American militaries began to communicate on the establishment of the Crisis Prevention Communication Framework between the two militaries.
So far, China and the United States have established a number of crisis management mechanisms. These mechanisms have played an important role in crisis management between the two sides in recent years, reducing misunderstandings and misjudgments, and avoiding maritime and air incidents. However, in the face of the increasingly severe and deteriorating security relations between the two countries and the rising security risks, these imperfect mechanisms are obviously not enough. In the future, both sides must urgently make greater efforts to establish a bilateral crisis management mechanism.
Since the late 1990s, the two militaries of China and the United States have begun to rebuild their security and defense dialogue mechanisms. The dialogue mechanisms established by the two sides include: the Chinese Ministry of Defense and U.S. Department of Defense Consultation (1997-2014), China-U.S. Maritime Military Security Consultation (1998-2019), China-U.S. Anti-Terrorism Consultation (2001-2016) and China-U.S. Financial Anti-Terrorism Working Group Consultation (2002-2016), China-U.S. Consultation on Strategic Security, Multilateral Arms Control, and Non-Proliferation Issues (2003-2016), Chinese Ministry of Defense and U.S. Department of Defense Working Meeting (2005-2020), China-U.S. Strategic Security Dialog (2011-2016), Chinese Ministry of Defense and U.S. Department of Defense Asia-Pacific Security Dialog (2014-2019), U.S.-China Army Dialog (2015), China-U.S. High-level Joint Dialog on Combating Cybercrime and Related Matters (2015, 2016), China-U.S. Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity Dialog (2017), China-U.S. Diplomatic and Security Dialog (2017, 2018), and China-U.S. Joint Staff Dialog (2017).
In the past 20 years or so, although the China-U.S. security and defense dialogue has been temporarily suspended several times and though the continuity of the dialogue is often affected by the change of the U.S. government, the dialogue between the two sides has been moving forward for most of the time, reaching a peak under the Obama administration. These dialogues have played a positive role in strengthening communication between the two countries and the two militaries, achieving security cooperation and managing differences and crises.
However, in recent years, with the serious rise of China-U.S. security frictions, especially with the overall deterioration of relations between the two countries since Trump took office, the China-U.S. security and defense dialogue has been severely weakened. As of 2019, most security and defense dialogues between the two sides have stalled. The outbreak of the global pandemic in 2020 has further stalled the institutional dialogue between the two sides, forming a vicious cycle. The stalled dialogue has exacerbated the deterioration of the security relationship between the two countries, and the accelerated deterioration of the security relationship has made it more difficult for the two sides to resume dialogue. This situation is obviously contrary to the consensus reached by leaders of China and the United States and the two militaries to strengthen risk and crisis management and has brought a very negative impact on the crisis management of both sides.
In addition, it is worth pointing out that since the 1990s, with the support of the two governments, think tanks of China and the United States have successively established and carried out a number of “Track 2” and “Track 1.5” security dialogues. These dialogues cover military-to-military relations, nuclear strategy and non-proliferation, crisis management, Taiwan Strait security, maritime security, cyber security, space security, and anti-terrorism, covering almost all aspects of China-U.S. security relations and playing an important and unique role in carrying out security cooperation and managing differences and crises. Worryingly, however, these conversations have also experienced serious stagnation in recent years.
(ii) Crisis management awareness, crisis management mechanism construction, and security and defense dialogues between China and Japan
Since the end of the Cold War, the security differences and maritime disputes between China and Japan have gradually increased, which has brought increasing troubles to the relationship between the two countries. However, for a long time, China and Japan have clearly lacked the awareness of crisis management, and the construction of a crisis management mechanism between the two countries has seriously lagged behind. There are various reasons for this.
In the early days of the Cold War, the Japanese government at that time followed the United States’ anti-China policy in an all-round way. China and Japan belonged to two hostile camps, but there was no direct military crisis or military conflict between the two countries. This is very different from the situation between China and the United States. After the two countries resumed diplomatic relations in 1972, China-Japan relations entered a 20-year honeymoon period. During this period, the dispute over island sovereignty between the two sides has been put aside and has been in a relatively calm state.
In the first decade after the end of the Cold War, Japan followed the United States to enhance relations with the Taiwan region, formulated new security policies with the United States, and strengthened the development of military power. In turn, security friction between China and Japan began to rise. In addition, at that time, due to China’s nuclear testing and Japanese right-wingers establishing a lighthouse on the Diaoyu Islands, there have been frictions between China and Japan, but these frictions are far from developing to the level of a crisis. At that time, there were very few naval and air military interactions between China and Japan, and maritime and air military security issues were not prominent. Therefore, crisis management has not been put on the agenda of China and Japan for a long time, and it is reasonable that the awareness of crisis management between the two sides is low.
After entering the 21st century, the power balance between China and Japan began to undergo major changes. In 2007 and 2010, China’s military expenditures and gross domestic product (GDP) surpassed that of Japan. Against this background, the political and security frictions between the two countries have risen significantly. First, historical frictions have formed a serious political crisis between the two countries, and then maritime frictions between the two sides are on the rise. Under this situation, the sense of crisis and the awareness of crisis management in the two countries have been improved. Strengthening crisis management and establishing a crisis management mechanism have begun to appear on the agendas of China and Japan. Compared with China, Japan had a greater sense of crisis at that time, and the establishment of a maritime emergency liaison mechanism was first proposed by the Japanese side in 2007.
However, due to the serious historical grievances between the two countries and the extreme lack of mutual trust between the defense agencies of the two sides, the construction of the crisis management mechanism of the two sides has progressed very slowly. In 2010 and 2012, China and Japan had two consecutive Diaoyu Islands incidents. Both crises escalated rapidly, causing all kinds of dialogue and exchanges between the two sides to cease. If the first crisis was mainly manifested as a diplomatic and political crisis, the second crisis brought the relationship between the two countries to the brink of military conflict. For a period of time, both sides strengthened the deployment of troops, and maritime dangers between military aircraft and warships of the two countries continued to occur. The two Diaoyu Islands incidents exposed the serious lack of crisis management awareness, a crisis management mechanism, and the capacity for crisis management between China and Japan.
At the end of 2014, after arduous negotiations, China and Japan reached a four-point principled consensus on handling and improving China-Japan relations. In the principled consensus, the two sides clearly proposed to “establish a crisis management and control mechanism to avoid unforeseen events.” This is an important advance. Since then, both China and Japan have strengthened crisis management in the East China Sea, security and defense dialogues between the two sides have gradually resumed, and the consultation on a maritime liaison mechanism has been restarted.
So far, China and Japan have established only two crisis management mechanisms. One is the government hotline, and the other is the maritime and air liaison mechanism memorandum signed between the defense departments of the two countries.
The governments of China and Japan reached an agreement in 1998 to establish a government hotline. The hotline was opened in 2000, and in 2010, it was announced that the head-of-state hotline would be rebuilt. The hotline between the Chinese and Japanese governments was not used in the two Diaoyu Islands incidents and did not play any role in crisis management. In addition, another possibility is not ruled out. That is, the two sides have never given the government hotline the function of crisis management.
The China-Japan Maritime and Air Liaison Mechanism was finally launched in 2018 after 10 years of tortuous negotiation. At present, after several rounds of consultations between the defense departments of the two countries, positive progress has been made on the direct telephone connection between the maritime and air liaison mechanism, and the construction is expected to start as soon as possible. Affected by the pandemic, the follow-up specific arrangements have been delayed. In addition, the author believes that the defense agencies of both sides still lack mutual trust and a lack of awareness of crisis management.
Since the 1990s, China and Japan have made great progress in establishing a mechanism for security and defense dialogues. The dialogue mechanisms established by the two sides include: China-Japan Security Dialogue (1993-2019), China-Japan Defense Consultation (1997-2011), China-Japan Consultation on East China Sea Issue (2004-2008), China-Japan Strategic Dialogue (2005-2019), China-Japan High-level Consultation on Maritime Affairs (2012-present), and China-Japan High-level Political Consultation (2014-present).
However, the intermittent nature of China-Japan security and defense dialogues is very prominent. After the second Diaoyu Islands incident broke out in 2012, all dialogues were interrupted for a long time. During this period, the friction and confrontation between the two sides became more serious, misunderstandings and suspicions continued to intensify, and the risk of crisis continued to rise.
By 2019, with the warming of China-Japan relations, the China-Japan security and defense dialogues have been basically restored and developed. If this trend can continue to develop, it will help both sides to strengthen crisis management mechanism construction and crisis management.
For a long time, compared with the situation between China and the United States, Track 2 security dialogues between China and Japan started late, are few in number, and lack continuity. However, in recent years, the Track 2 dialogues held by think tanks in China and Japan have developed rapidly, and their influence on the decision-making of the two governments has increased.
Unfortunately, the mechanism for China-Japan defense and security dialogues in 2020 has generally stalled. This stagnation, however, is not due to a new crisis between the two countries; it is due to the restrictions on international exchanges brought about by the outbreak of the global pandemic. In the face of the raging COVID-19 pandemic, China and Japan have carried out certain forms of cooperation in the fight against the pandemic and have always maintained communication between their foreign affairs agencies. This will help the two sides resume dialogues after the pandemic eases.
To sum up, by comparing crisis management awareness, crisis management mechanism construction, and security and defense dialogues between China and the United States and China and Japan, three basic views can be drawn.
First, in terms of crisis management awareness, for a long time, the United States has been stronger than China and Japan, which is related to its experience of fierce confrontation with the Soviet Union in the Cold War; the crisis management awareness between China and the United States is stronger than that between China and Japan, which is mainly determined by the different experiences of China-U.S. and China-Japan security relations after the war and at the beginning of the end of the Cold War. In recent years, after years of a state of crisis, the awareness of crisis management between China and Japan has been greatly improved, which will help both countries to strengthen crisis management in the future.
Second, in the construction of a bilateral crisis management mechanism, the mechanism construction between China and the United States and between China and Japan must be vigorously strengthened and improved. In comparison, the crisis management mechanism between China and the United States is significantly stronger than that between China and Japan. Before the serious deterioration of the relationship between the two countries, the establishment of the bilateral crisis management mechanism between China and the United States had made some progress. However, it was not until the power transfer between the two countries and the sharp rise in disputes between the two countries that the construction of the bilateral crisis management mechanism between China and Japan started slowly, and therefore faltered and progressed slowly. In the future, in the construction of crisis management mechanisms, China and the United States should focus on implementing, enriching, and improving relevant mechanisms, while China and Japan must redouble their efforts to change the serious lack of bilateral mechanisms.
Third, since the end of the Cold War, China and the United States and China and Japan have made great progress in establishing a mechanism for security and defense dialogues. The main problem with the two is that the dialogues are intermittent and less continuous. This is particularly evident between China and Japan. China and Japan have long lagged behind China and the United States in conducting Track 2 dialogues. However, in recent years, China-U.S. and China-Japan dialogues have shown different development trends. The China-Japan security and defense dialogues have gradually resumed and strengthened, while the China-U.S. security and defense dialogues have become increasingly stagnant. The former is beneficial for China and Japan to strengthen crisis management mechanism construction and carry out crisis management; the latter increases the difficulty for China and the United States to improve the crisis management mechanism and carry out crisis management.
III. Strengthening the management of China-U.S. and China-Japan security crises
On the basis of analyzing the security risks existing between China and the United States and between China and Japan, as well as the crisis management awareness of China and the United States and China and Japan, the construction of crisis management mechanisms and the development and changes in security and defense dialogues, this section puts forward policy recommendations on how to strengthen China-U.S. and China-Japan crisis management.
There are three common suggestions: First, China, the United States, and Japan must further strengthen their awareness of crisis management and fully realize that in the new international situation, major powers must no longer resort to military conflicts and wars to resolve disputes; otherwise, there will be endless troubles. Second, in the face of the rising military security friction between the two sides, both China and the United States and China and Japan must vigorously strengthen and improve the construction of bilateral crisis management mechanisms. Third, both China and the United States and China and Japan must adopt a combination of online (internet) and offline (on-site) methods to resume security and defense dialogues as soon as possible in a focused and selective manner.
Below, we propose some specific suggestions for China and the United States and China and Japan to strengthen crisis management.
(i) Suggestions for Strengthening China-U.S. Crisis Management
In the current and foreseeable future, the focus of China-U.S. crisis management should be placed on the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, and cyberspace. Specifically, the South China Sea and cybersecurity frictions are new challenges faced by China and the United States in the past decade. While strengthening crisis management measures, it is necessary to clarify each other’s bottom lines as soon as possible. On the issue of the Taiwan Strait and the peninsula, after a long period of confrontation, the bottom line of both China and the United States is relatively clear. The key to avoiding the crisis is to never challenge the bottom line of the other side. In the long run, the East China Sea and outer space should also be important areas for both sides to strengthen crisis management.
At present, China and the United States should redouble their efforts to prevent maritime and air incidents due to misunderstandings and misjudgments or miscalculations. The two sides must effectively strengthen maritime military security consultation mechanisms. They must consciously and strictly abide by the code of conduct for the safety of maritime and air encounters and the mutual notification mechanism for major military operations jointly formulated by the two sides and their two annexes. In practice, its content must be constantly enriched and improved. To this end, in addition to insisting on holding annual situation and risk review meetings, relevant authorities on both sides must strengthen periodic and ad hoc consultations to eliminate hidden dangers in a timely manner and strive to keep security risks to a minimum.
In their efforts to resume and strengthen security and defense dialogues, China and the United States should make crisis management an important part of the dialogues. To this end, conditions should be jointly created, first of all, to resume the China-U.S. Diplomatic and Security Dialog (or China-U.S. Defense Consultation), the China-U.S. Joint Staff Dialog, the China-U.S. Maritime Military Security Consultation Annual Meeting, and the China-U.S. Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity Dialog. These dialogues should include the establishment and improvement of bilateral crisis communication mechanisms, various security confidence measures (including codes of conduct in maritime and air, cyberspace, and outer space), and how to avoid “militarization of the South China Sea.” In addition, the two sides should strive to launch the China-U.S. strategic stability dialogue at an early date. While focusing on the nuclear strategy, nuclear development strategy and related issues of cyber security, outer space security, anti-missile deployment, and development of new conventional strategic weapons, crisis stabilization, and the development of confidence measures in the nuclear field are also important components of the dialogue.
China and the United States should clarify and strengthen the crisis management function of the hotline of the two heads of state and the hotline of the defense agencies to ensure that the hotlines play an important role in crisis prevention and control. To this end, the frequency of dialogue should be increased, the appointment time should be shortened, and the hotline should be used to quickly exchange information, clarify intentions, and send clear signals. In order to establish crisis communication more quickly, the two sides should also seriously consider the issue of establishing military hotlines between the relevant theaters of the two countries. The various hotlines can be available at normal times, but their functionality in a crisis is key.
In addition to various hotline communication mechanisms, the two sides should also fully implement the role of the embassies and special envoys of the two sides for emergency communication. In addition, the two sides should set up a joint working group to deal with emergencies as soon as possible. Its main functions should include collecting and sharing risk information, discussing crisis prevention, controlling contingency plans, conducting crisis communication, and making recommendations to decision-makers before incidents. After incidents, they should conduct joint evaluations and summarizations of lessons learned. The joint working group can be set up under the diplomatic and security dialogues mechanism of the two countries and can be subject to the direct leadership of the diplomatic and military departments of the two countries.
Senior leaders of China and the United States and the two militaries should reach a consensus on the basic principles of crisis management. In China-U.S. security crisis management Track 2 dialogues, experts from both sides have jointly put forward several basic principles of crisis management, such as “always keeping direct communication channels open and sending clear and specific signals,” “escalating slowly and making symmetrical responses,” “working towards interests rather than from ideologies,” “using high-pressure methods with caution and preventing the promise trap,” “breaking difficult disputes into easier solutions and solving them gradually.” If these basic principles of crisis management can become the consensus of the high level of the two countries, it will be of great significance to strengthen the crisis management between China and the United States.
China and the United States should continue to support Track 2 security dialogues. Over the years, as a supplement to government dialogues, Track 2 security dialogues held by think tanks of the two countries have played a positive role in the two sides’ cooperation on security, managing differences and crises, reducing misunderstandings and misjudgments, and increasing mutual trust. Given that current security and defense dialogues between the two governments face serious difficulties, various Track 2 security dialogues, including the China-U.S. Security Dialogue, China-U.S. Strategic Nuclear Dialogue, China-U.S. Security Crisis Management Dialogue, and China-U.S. Cyber Security Dialogue, should not be suspended but should be further strengthened.
(ii) Suggestions for Strengthening China-Japan Security Crisis Management
Both China and Japan must fully and earnestly implement the China-Japan maritime and air liaison mechanism that has been launched, further strengthen the management of maritime disputes, and strictly prevent the occurrence of maritime and air incidents. At present, an urgent task is to establish a defense hotline as soon as possible. In order to break the two-year deadlock on this issue, it is recommended that high-level leaders of the two countries jointly promote the matter and require that the defense authorities of both countries complete the task within a time limit.
Both China and Japan should seize the opportunity to improve the overall relationship and make up for the shortcomings of the bilateral crisis management mechanism as soon as possible. The two sides should strive to first reach an agreement on the establishment of a direct hotline between the top leaders of the two countries or the reactivation of the hotline between the two governments. Secondly, they can learn from the practices between China and the United States and conduct consultations on the development of a code of conduct for China-Japan maritime and air security and a mechanism for mutual notification of major military operations. In addition, the two sides should establish a liaison mechanism and code of conduct between the maritime law enforcement agencies of the two countries as soon as possible.
China and Japan should continue to resume and strengthen bilateral security and defense dialogues. First of all, annual defense and security consultations at the vice-ministerial level between China and Japan that have been stalled for many years should be restarted. The two countries should elevate the level of dialogue and exchanges between the defense agencies of the two countries and actively work to gradually change the military confrontation between the two countries and develop non-traditional security cooperation. This dialogue can also incorporate security issues such as cyber and outer space. Second, efforts should be made to resume consultations on the East China Sea issue at an early date and make efforts to gradually resolve the China-Japan border demarcation dispute through negotiations. Finally, the two sides should consider giving more crisis management functions to the high-level political consultations between China and Japan. In the future, the above-mentioned three dialogues will continue to be carried out together with the China-Japan Security Dialogue, the China-Japan High-level Consultation on Maritime Affairs, and the Annual Maritime and Air Liaison Mechanism Meeting, which will form an important guarantee for strengthening China-Japan crisis management.
China and Japan should form positive interactions to jointly maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. On the Taiwan issue, China adheres to the policy of “peaceful reunification and one country, two systems.” Japan abides by the “one-China policy” established when it resumed diplomatic relations with China and its commitment not to develop any official relations with the Taiwan region. On the South China Sea issue, China supports all countries, including Japan, to jointly maintain the safety and smoothness of maritime passages in the South China Sea. Japan supports the “dual-track approach” proposed by China and endorsed by ASEAN countries to resolve the South China Sea issue. If China and Japan can form the above-mentioned positive interaction, it will fundamentally prevent the two sides from crises and conflicts in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.
China and Japan should also consider jointly promoting the trilateral security dialogue between China, Japan, and the United States at an appropriate time to discuss the many security issues which involve all three states. The main tasks of the dialogue are to formulate confidence-building measures (CBM) in military and security, reduce misunderstandings and miscalculations, manage differences and crises, and strengthen non-traditional security cooperation. This is of very positive significance for strengthening the crisis management between China and Japan and between China and the United States and in breaking the long-term confrontation between China and Japan and the United States in the bilateral military alliance.
China and Japan should vigorously develop and strengthen Track 2 security dialogues. Specifically, the China-Japan Crisis Management Dialogue, which has been carried out for several years, should receive more attention from relevant authorities on both sides, making it truly an important platform for exploring and strengthening China-Japan crisis management. In addition, while continuing to carry out existing Track 2 security dialogues, think tanks of the two countries should also establish new Track 2 dialogues on cyber security and outer space security, with emphasis placed on the management of differences and crisis management. In the future, some Track 2 dialogues can be upgraded to Track 1 dialogues.
Looking ahead, there may be two prospects for the development of China-U.S. and China-Japan security relations.
First, crisis management is ineffective, and the security friction between the two sides spins out of control, leading to military crises and even military conflicts. Under this scenario, the China-U.S. relationship, which has seriously deteriorated, will inevitably move towards a full-scale confrontation and a cold war; the China-Japan relationship, which has gradually recovered and improved in recent years, may once again deviate from the normal development track and become tense and confrontational once again.
Second, through effective crisis management, the security frictions between the two sides can be controlled, major military crises and conflicts can be avoided, security risks for the two sides can be gradually reduced, and security relations can be gradually stabilized. The emergence of such a scenario will help the overall China-U.S. relationship gradually enter a long period of mutual adjustment and mutual adaptation and will help the overall China-Japan relationship continue to move forward on a normal track.
There is no doubt that China, the United States, and Japan should all make active efforts to avoid the first prospect and realize the second because this is not only in the fundamental interests of China, the United States, and Japan but also in the fundamental interests of the Asia-Pacific region and even the rest of the world.