Pacific Navies Approve Conduct Code for Unplanned Sea Encounters

Navy chiefs attending the Western Pacific Naval Symposium in China approved an agreement on rules for unplanned encounters at sea, according to the official PLA Daily newspaper.

The Code for Unplanned Encounters covers what steps should be taken to reduce interference and uncertainty during unexpected contact between naval vessels or aircraft, the report posted on the Ministry of Defense’s website said.

First floated at a meeting of the symposium in 2000, the non-binding code could potentially help avoid uneasy encounters such as that between the USS Cowpens and a Chinese military vessel in the South China Sea in December, which required maneuvering to avoid a collision. The PLA Daily did not say where the code applies, and if it covers territory that is in dispute, such as areas of the South China Sea or East China Sea.

The code is a “milestone document,” the commander of China’s navy, Admiral Wu Shengli, said at the event, according to the China Daily newspaper. The symposium, which is meeting this week in the coastal city of Qingdao, has 21 member states, including Australia, Japan, the Philippines and the U.S.

“We need to respect history and take history as a mirror and continue to resolve maritime disputes and conflicts through peaceful means, as well as avoid extreme behavior that may endanger regional security and stability,” Wu was quoted as saying by the China Daily.

Broader Mechanism

Japan welcomes the code and regards it “as extremely meaningful in encouraging China to play a responsible and constructive role” in the region, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters today in Tokyo. “We want to use this as a chance to strengthen our efforts to persuade China to bring into force a broader marine crisis management mechanism between the defense ministries of our two countries.”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is separately seeking a code of conduct for oil-and gas-rich waters in the South China Sea, at a time of China’s increased military assertiveness in the region. The talks have made little progress since China agreed last July to start discussions, and China introduced fishing rules in January requiring foreign vessels to seek permission before entering waters off its southern coast.

China and Japan are also locked in a dispute about islands in the East China Sea that both claim, and over which China declared an air defense identification zone in November. Japan on April 19 broke ground on a new radar base on its westernmost island, to improve surveillance in the area covering the uninhabited islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

‘Tense Incidents’

China will make “no compromise, no concessions” in disputes over territory and resources with Japan and the Philippines, and is ready to fight and win any battle, General Chang Wanquan said April 8 at a briefing in Beijing alongside visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

“In the East China Sea, we have seen tense incidents including a Chinese ship locking fire control radar onto a Japanese ship,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters yesterday in Tokyo before the code was approved. “We would like to conclude a broader agreement, for example with China, about communications at sea and we will continue to make efforts in this direction.”

The code will have a positive effect on reducing misunderstandings and accidents at sea, as well as protecting regional security and stability, the PLA Daily reported. It establishes a guide for safe procedures, communication and signal language, it said.

— With assistance by Henry Sanderson

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