The Maritime Self-Defense Force of Japan has conducted “goodwill exercises” with the Chinese Navy for the first time in eight years, the MSDF has said in a statement.
MSDF officials said the Japanese destroyer Samidare and the Chinese guided-missile destroyer Taiyuan participated in the drill. They said the exercise took place in waters south of Japan last Wednesday (16th Oct).
In the scope of the exercises, the two vessels reportedly tested radio communications and other coordination procedures while sailing side by side.
The two countries’ first goodwill drill since 2011 was scheduled to coincide with the Chinese warship’s visit to Japan.
Taiyuan, which is the first Chinese navy ship to visit Japan in a decade, was supposed to take part in an international fleet review of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force. But the fleet review was cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis, which swept through Japan earlier this month.
The goodwill drill is being seen as the latest attempt by the two countries to revive defense exchanges, which were suspended due to tensions regarding the Senkaku Islands. Japan controls the islands. China and Taiwan claim them.
In April, for the first time in more than seven years, Japan sent an MSDF vessel to China to take part in the country’s fleet review.
MSDF officials say they will keep an eye on China’s maritime activities, but they say they also hope to build a relationship of trust with the Chinese navy through exchanges.
China routinely sends government-backed ships into the waters surrounding the tiny islets — prompting Japan to send its own vessels — as part of what observers say is a strategy intended to wear down Japan.
Recent years have also seen China’s increasingly capable military punch further into the western Pacific, including through key strategic passageways near Okinawa Prefecture and elsewhere.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has worked to repair ties with Beijing since relations soured in the early 2010s over the Senkakus and history issues. In late June, he met Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka to lay the groundwork for Xi’s first state visit to Japan next spring, touting relations between the “eternal neighboring countries” as much improved.
But while political ties are “back on a normal track,” a survey late last month found that 85 percent of Japanese, a record high, have unfavorable views of China — a stunning contrast with Abe’s talk of creating a “new era” of friendship with Japan’s top Asian rival.