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China, Japan Begin Talks on East China Sea Drilling Dispute

Kenichiro Sasae, director of the Asia and Oceania Bureau at Japan's Foreign Ministry, speaks to journalists as he arrives in Beijing
China and Japan have opened two days of closed-door negotiations in Beijing aimed at resolving a long-running dispute over natural gas drilling rights in the .

Japan has demanded that China stop exploration in a disputed area of the East China Sea and disclose plans for its drilling projects. China refuses, claiming the area where it plans to drill is within its exclusive economic zone.

Beijing last week protested Japanese plans to start awarding exploration rights to Japanese companies - bids that had been on hold for decades.

Both countries say the disputed area is within their exclusive economic development zones. Japan has proposed that a maritime boundary be set at a midpoint between the countries, but China says the line of separation is farther east.

Monday's negotiations come at a time when the two nations are locked in a wider dispute over Japan's militaristic past, making analysts pessimistic about the outcome.

Professor David Zweig directs the Center for China's Transnational Relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

"The environment is not very good for this meeting to be successful," said Professor Zweig. "Neither side wants to make compromises right now. There would be ways to work this out, but the Chinese are feeling that they cannot make any concessions to Japan on this issue until Japan makes a concession on the textbooks."

Thousands of Chinese demonstrated against Japan in April as Beijing complained that some Japanese history textbooks glossed over atrocities committed by Japanese troops in China in the first half of the 20th century.

Relations suffered further last week, when the Chinese vice prime minister abruptly called off a meeting in Tokyo with the Japanese prime minister after he defended his controversial visits to a Tokyo shrine where convicted war criminals are among those venerated.