- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

Prickly Sino-Japanese relations have not been helped by a dispute over maritime boundaries in the East China Sea, where a major undersea gas-exploration project hangs in the balance.

During two days of talks this week, China turned down a Japanese request to halt its gas projects and to hand over relevant data.

Instead, China proposed exploring the area jointly, said Cui Tiankai, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Department, who headed the Chinese delegation.

Japan declined China’s proposal.

“We will continue to strongly demand that data be provided,” said Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda.

The two sides agreed, however, to hold further discussions on the issue.

“The Chinese side presented their ideas on joint exploration,” said Kenichiro Sasae, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceania Affairs Bureau.

“While it is not quite acceptable to us as it is, both the Japanese and Chinese sides agreed to hold discussions to consider what would be a possible solution for the two sides.”

The governments failed to reach an agreement on the demarcation of their respective exclusive economic zones, an area that allows under international law coastal countries to control maritime resources up to 200 nautical miles offshore. But the area between Japan and China is not enough to give the two countries such zones: The width of much of the East China Sea is less than 400 nautical miles.

China is conducting gas-exploration projects approximately 1 mile from the median line, which is the Japan-proposed line of separation of the two countries’ exclusive economic zones. China does not recognize the median line, claiming its economic waters stretch farther east.

While Japan maintains that the demarcation line should be separated by the median line, China argues the border should be where the continental shelf ends.

The two countries could only agree to create a working group tasked with discussing ways to demarcate the countries’ exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea.

“Concerning our request that China provides information on its development activities and to halt them, unfortunately, we could not get an agreement,” Mr. Sasae said. “But the Chinese side took note of Japan’s concerns and interests, and we agreed to continue discussing this issue.”

An agreement could not be reached on Chinese suspension of gas-field development until the next round of talks.

Japan also made an additional proposal: joint work on increasing domestic demand.

“If possible, for example, we want to see China increase the ratio of nuclear-power generation from the viewpoint of preventing global warming,” said Mr. Hosoda, noting that Japan can provide its atomic power-generation technology to China as a step to promote bilateral cooperation in the field of energy.

The next round of talks has not yet been scheduled. The previous round, held in October, ended with both sides agreeing to meet again.

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