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Saturday, Oct. 1, 2005

Japan, China grope for way to share drilling for gas


Staff writer

Japan and China kicked off a two-day working-level meeting Friday on contentious gas projects in the East China Sea with hopes that they can agree to jointly tap the resources.

But Foreign Ministry officials said the two sides needed to overcome many hurdles, citing China's repeated refusal to meet Japan's demand to provide survey data on the gas-rich area and halt its drilling until they reach an agreement on such exploitation.

"This issue requires a quick resolution based on a belief that the two nations will turn the East China Sea from a sea of conflict into a sea of cooperation," Kenichiro Sasae, director general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, said in an opening statement.

Sasae's Chinese counterpart, Cui Tiankai, who heads China's delegation, said he hoped to resolve the issue through dialogue.

It is the third time the two sides have conducted meetings on the contentious gas projects. The previous talks were held in Beijing in May.

The talks, which will continue Saturday, ended Friday without significant progress being made, a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

At issue are Chinese gas projects in the East China Sea, a few kilometers inside the Chinese side of the median line that Japan claims separates the two countries exclusive economic zones. China disputes the line and reckons its EEZ extends to the edge of the continental shelf up close to Okinawa, and encompassing Taiwan.

Tokyo is concerned that the gas projects will tap resources that extend into Japan's side of the median line.

But because China claims the gas fields are located well within what it recognizes as its EEZ, it does not agree that it could siphon off resources belonging to Japan.

Japan lodged a protest with China last week over the unilateral start of resource extraction by a Chinese consortium in the Tianwaitian field.

In September, China dispatched five naval ships near the Chunxiao gas field -- a move Japan deemed a threat. Tokyo has since stepped up air patrols in the area.

On Thursday, on the eve of the talks, China again deployed warships to the East China Sea.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference Friday morning before the bilateral talks began that Japan would urge China to stop tapping the gas fields and provide essential information to Japan.

"We have agreed in principle on joint development . . . so we will discuss how to make that happen in detail," Machimura said.

Information from Kyodo added.



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