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Japan ready to resume talks with China
Updated: 2005-10-05 09:43

Japan has proposed to China that working-level talks on undersea oil and gas deposits in a disputed area of the East China Sea resume on Oct. 19, Japan's trade minister said Tuesday.

Shoichi Nakagawa gave no other details of the proposed talks, which would be the fourth round between the two sides in the past year. A ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Japan had not yet received a reply from China.

The last round of talks ended inconclusively last week.

"Japan wishes to deal with the issue in a calm way," Nakagawa later told a parliamentary committee.

The two countries have been feuding over claims to undersea oil and gas deposits in the area and the delineation of their exclusive economic zones there.

The clash is part of the overall troubled relationship between Japan and China. While economic ties between the two countries are extensive, territorial disputes and clashes over Japan's attitude toward its record during World War II continue to hamper political and diplomatic relations.

Last month, Japan lodged a protest against China after Tokyo said it had confirmed that Beijing was extracting natural gas from the Tianwaitian oil field in the East China Sea.

China said that it was within its rights to continue new gas drilling activity in the area.

In the discussions held last week in Tokyo, Japan urged China to stop developing the disputed gas fields and called for joint Tokyo-Beijing exploitation of natural resources in the area. China said it would respond to Japan's proposals at the next meeting.

Nakagawa also hinted that Tokyo would protect any Japanese companies that begin exploration in the region from a Chinese threat.

"If a private company were to start activities in the area," Nakagawa said, "then the Japanese government has a responsibility to make sure it can carry out its work safely." Nakagawa did not elaborate.

Japan gave Teikoku Oil drilling rights earlier this year. That action drew a formal protest from Beijing, which called it a severe provocation.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both Japan and China have signed, coastal countries can claim an economic zone extending 370 kilometers, or 230 miles, from their shores. The disputed reserves lie within both countries' claims, and the United Nations has until May 2009 to rule on the matter.

The battle over undersea resources has contributed to a deterioration of relations already soured from a dispute over Japanese textbooks that some critics say gloss over Tokyo's wartime atrocities.

Another issue is Japan's drive to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a move China opposes.

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