what others say
The ill-tempered exchange China and Japan are engaged in over naval incidents in the East China Sea is not more of the same. What could arise from two trigger incidents last month, in which a Japanese warship and a military helicopter were said to have been targeted by the Chinese navy's radar guidance systems, is anybody's guess.
It is not clear what did happen. If Japan releases redacted classified data that substantiates its allegations, China will have much explaining to do, as it has rejected Tokyo's version of events as a "fabrication". It said its naval craft had engaged in normal radar operations and not preparatory weapons-firing, which is a hair-trigger procedure. In neither case had firing been effected.
But if no proof is forthcoming or the data released is inconclusive, Japan can expect a ramping up of accusations that it is campaigning to agitate international opinion against a presumed "China threat", as Chinese officials put it. Relations will spiral downwards.
As it is, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's demand for an apology for the alleged incidents, which he said were "dangerous" and "provocative", haS not gone down well in Beijing.
Encounters at sea and in the air after Japan nationalised the Senkaku-Diaoyu islets have looked more provocative than the last one. As chances of accidental clashes rise accordingly, the cycle of miscues must be broken. It would mark a turning point if the latest developments encourage a rethink in both capitals.
These are delicate times. The two nations need to pull back and consider afresh the primacy of their relationship in the regional order. They should emphasise confidence building, which both have, at times, alluded to. There is mention lately of a military hotline to be set up to avert miscalculations. It should be done forthwith, later to be elevated to leaders' level.
Incoming Chinese President Xi Jinping recently received an emissary from Tokyo, and there has been talk that he and Abe will meet before long. It is noted that Abe, while taking a strong line on the incidents, has said they need not close off dialogue between them.
All that notwithstanding, it is disturbing that incidents in the disputed waters have progressed from a case of civilian rabble-rousers flying the flag, to involvement by the military. It is not meaningful anymore to talk about cause and effect, about who started what. Abe's declared intention to review Japan's anti-war constitution and its atonement for wartime aggression was in the circumstances unhelpful. But so is Chinese flexing of military muscle.
It is hard to contemplate that either nation is spoiling for a fight, but the risk of a misreading of intentions is real, and rising by the day.