In among Japan’s much more proactive approach to Southeast Asia, including stronger commitments of aid and security cooperation to Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam, and increased tension over the Senkaku islands due to developments in Japan’s domestic politics, you could be forgiven for thinking that Japan and China have completely burned their bridges in the last two years. However I passed this interesting and unheralded piece of information the other day that reminds us that the countries in the region are still looking for ways to increase confidence and institutionalize cooperation despite difficult geopolitical circumstances. Japan, China and India have enhanced their coordination in piracy patrols near Somalia. As reported by the Associated Press:

China is closely cooperating with the navies of Japan and India in patrolling against piracy off Somalia, a sign of the country’s greater willingness to work with other nations in safeguarding global trade despite mixed sentiments among Chinese toward the country’s main Asian rivals.

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force became the lead navy Sunday in the pact that allows the three to synchronize patrols and best allocate each country’s escort resources, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters at a briefing.

Analysts say the escort pact is a sign of growing Chinese naval confidence that could reduce the chances of confrontation in waters closer to China where navies from Japan, the U.S. and others operate in increasingly tight proximity. With China expanding its naval capabilities and asserting its interests, it’s important that Beijing’s admirals start working more closely with their foreign counterparts, defense experts say.

In addition to Japan taking a more prominent role at this year’s RIMPAC exercises, it is noteworthy that Japan’s MSDF is getting another ‘leadership opportunity’ – all the more so because China’s PLA(N) is one of those being led. This is not the first time that the two naval forces have engaged with each other around Somalia but it is perhaps the most thorough engagement to date.

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Corey Wallace joined Japan Security Watch in 2011. He writes on Japan security-related topics, focusing on issues and stories that may not find their way into the English language media. He also hosts the blog Sigma1 where he writes on Japanese domestic politics and broader issues in international relations. Prior to taking up a PhD Corey was a participant on the JET program (2004-2007) and on returning to New Zealand he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology from 2007-2010 as a policy adviser. Corey lectures two courses at the University of Auckland. One is on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, which contains a significant focus on East Asia security issues. The other is a course on China's international relations. His primary academic interests before his current Japan focus were science and technology politics/policy, issues of ethnic identity, and Chinese modern history and politics. He carries over his interest in issues of identity and history into his PhD where he is looking at generationally situated concepts of national identity and their impact on foreign policy ideas in Japan.
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