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Japan to Counter Chinese Exploration in East China Sea - 2004-06-29

Japan plans to survey underwater resources, apparently in response to moves by China to develop undersea natural gas fields between the two countries. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Shoichi Nagakawa said Tuesday that a survey of Japan's exclusive economic zone will start as soon as local Japanese fishermen agree to the plan.

Mr. Nakagawa says a ship will go to the area as soon as next month to inspect the area, bouncing seismic waves onto the seabed as a prelude to experimental drilling. He flew over the area last week in a Japan Coast Guard plane, and viewed the Chunxiao natural gas complex, built by a Chinese consortium with the assistance of U.S. and European energy giants.

Earlier this month, Japan lodged a complaint with China, arguing that the Chunxiao project could violate Japan's exclusive economic zone or EEZ.

Japan says it has the right to a share of resources found by any Chinese projects that straddle the zone's maritime boundary.

Japan and China dispute their EEZ boundary. Tokyo contends that it is halfway between the two countries in the East China Sea. But China claims the border is where the continental shelf ends. Under the International Law of the Sea, coastal countries have the exclusive right to economically develop sea resources up to 200 miles from their coastlines. When the EEZ boundaries from different countries overlap, their governments are to reach an agreement on how to divide the area.

The Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers discussed the issue at a meeting in Beijing last week.

The trade and industry minister, Mr. Nakagawa on Tuesday told reporters that Japan has asked Beijing for information on China's gas project but has yet to receive a satisfactory response.

Japan says it wants to know if the project will suck Japanese natural resources into Chinese territory.

China last week proposed joint development of an offshore gas field, saying the two neighbors should shelve their differences and work together. But Japan has rejected the proposal, saying the first step is to establish on which side of the line the resources exist.

Tokyo's announcement about the research survey is seen as a significant change in policy. Several Japanese companies have pressed the government since the 1960's to claim rights to undersea resources in the disputed area. Japan has not done so, apparently to avoid raising tensions with China.

Experts say as much as two hundred billion cubic meters of natural gas could lie below the East China Sea. They say the Chinese project can be expected to extract some 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas every year.