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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Shipping ban in Japan zone mistake: China


Staff writer

China informed Japan early Tuesday that it had posted the wrong latitude on a Web site specifying an area where Beijing is banning ship traffic near a disputed gas field in the East China Sea, government officials said.

The area covered by the revised latitude is now outside Japan's economic exclusive zone, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told reporters.

The previously announced latitudes would have banned ship traffic in an area that protrudes across the median line that Japan claims demarcates the two nations' EEZs. The latest claim by China threatened to further aggravate already strained diplomatic ties between the two countries over their maritime boundaries.

"We have the impression that it was a simple mistake," Abe said at a regularly scheduled news conference in the morning. "Because the (Chinese) side says it's a technical mistake, well, we believe that's what it was."

The Chinese Maritime Safety Administration posted a notice on its Web site that Beijing was prohibiting unauthorized ship traffic around the Pinghu gas field in the East China Sea from March 1 to Sept. 30 so that pipelines and cables could be laid on the seabed. The exclusion zone previously announced stretched into Japan's side of the median line.

The initially announced latitudes form a rough north-south corridor stretching some 200 km, starting at 27 degrees 7 minutes north latitude and 124 degrees 55 minutes east longitude. The revised latitude is 29 degrees 7 minutes north. The exclusion zone is now only 6 km long, according to Foreign Ministry officials.

Japan maintains the boundary between the two EEZs in the East China Sea should be the median line of the two countries' coastlines, while China argues the line should be the edge of the continental shelf, close to Okinawa.

Beijing did not notify Tokyo of its exclusion zone through diplomatic channels, and the Japan Coast Guard only learned about it when it was posted on the Web site in late March.

It was also learned Tuesday that the coast guard and Foreign Ministry failed to pass on the information on the ban to top officials at the Prime Minister's Official Residence, including Abe, until April 16.

"China must have known very well what kind of area this is. I hope (Beijing) will act quickly in the future," Abe said.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso also expressed displeasure with the situation, saying Tuesday that Beijing should have notified Tokyo of its ship traffic ban, particularly because the two countries are locked in a dispute over their maritime boundaries.

"I think normally a country would pay respect to (the other) and notify it of (such a ban) if the two have a dispute in the sea area," Aso told reporters Wednesday morning.

"I want to review when information (on such matters) should have been reported (to the prime minister's office)," Abe told reporters, referring to the delay in the information relay within the government.

Upping the ante

A Japan Coast Guard vessel departed Tuesday from Tokyo to conduct a survey near islets at the center of a territorial dispute with South Korea, coast guard officials said.

The move is expected to aggravate the sovereignty dispute over the islets, which South Korea calls Dokdo and Japan refers to as Takeshima, as Seoul had demanded that Japan stop such research activity.

South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Ban Ki Moon said Seoul's sovereignty over the islets has priority over relations with Tokyo, while President Roh Moo Hyun indicated his government will shift to a hardline stance to confront Tokyo's territorial claims.

Ban also told a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs that the government will take various steps to bolster its control of the islets, according to Yonhap News Agency.

South Korea plans to hold a national security meeting Wednesday.



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