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Japan to allow gas drilling in disputed sea
Updated: 2005-04-13 15:39

TOKYO - Tokyo said it would let Japanese firms explore gas and oil in waters disputed with China amid rising diplomatic tensions and just days ahead of the foreign minister's trip to Beijing.

The move came despite a warning last week from China not to allow the exploration rights in the area of the East China Sea, saying the move "will further escalate the situation."

"It is a process. We will press forward accordingly," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters.

Asked if the move could further deteriorate Sino-Japan relations, Koizumi said: "This is a separate matter."

Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry said in a statement it has "started the process to grant the rights" of companies in the East China Sea.

News reports said it could take a few months before the companies were authorizied to explore, let alone begin drilling, and that the government could decide to halt the activity.

Japan and China are two of the world's biggest energy importers and bitterly dispute control of the field, which an initial survey in 1999 estimated had a massive 200 billion cubic meters of gas.

The move came amid worsening ties between the Asian neighbors as thousands of Chinese took part in weekend protests against Japan.

China's anger has been heightened by Japan's bid for a prestigious permanent seat on the UN Security Council and Tokyo's recent approval of a nationalist textbook which China and South Korea says whitewashes Japanese atrocities.

Japan demanded China's apology and compensation over the protests, but China argued Beijing was not responsible for the current state of Sino-Japanese relations, blaming worsening ties on Japan's failure to atone for its wartime past.

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