China-Japan talks on gas exploration set to begin

By Qin Jize (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-05-24 06:55

China and Japan will hold a new round of consultations to discuss the dispute over gas exploration rights in the East China Sea tomorrow in Beijing.

The talks, aimed at drawing up a joint development proposal by this autumn, are expected to give shape to the consensus reached by Premier Wen Jiabao and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe during the Chinese premier's ice-breaking trip to Japan last month.

The two leaders agreed to accelerate the process of consultation and make further efforts to seek a common understating on joint development.

Hu Zhengyue, director of the Asian affairs department of the Foreign Ministry, and Kenichiro Sasae, head of the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian affairs bureau, will be the chief representatives of the two sides.

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Japanese sources said that Hu and Sasae would also hold separate talks on overall Sino-Japanese relations tomorrow after the discussion on the East China Sea issue.

The talks have attracted a lot of attention as many believe that the two countries are likely to take concrete steps toward energy cooperation.

Seven earlier rounds of talks since 2004 yielded no breakthroughs.

According to Japanese media, Tokyo has proposed that the two nations jointly develop natural gas in a much wider area of the East China Sea straddling the Japan-designated median line.

Beijing disagrees and, instead, wants the two countries tap the northern and southern areas in the East China Sea that includes the Diaoyu Islands, a proposal that is unacceptable to Tokyo.

In a joint statement issued during Wen's visit, the two countries agreed on joint development in a relatively-large area, which is acceptable to both sides.

Analysts say China and Japan have no choice but to work together despite the frictions as the matter is complicated by historical issues and territorial disputes.

Feng Zhaokui, a senior researcher on Sino-Japanese ties, said the issue is a major test of the two countries' resolve to establish a strategic relationship of mutual benefit.

"The two countries surely need to explore ways to cooperate rather than compete for energy resources," said Feng, who is with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The East China Sea covers an area of more than 700,000 square km with an average depth of 350 meters.

It is estimated that about 7.2 billion tons of gas and oil resources lie untapped in the waters.

(China Daily 05/24/2007 page2)

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