Japan protests China over East China Sea gas exploration

Japan protests China over East China Sea gas exploration
This March 2015 photo provided by Defense Ministry through the Japanese Foreign Ministry Homepage shows Chinese offshore platforms in the East China Sea. AP file photo
Published: 9:00 AM, August 2, 2017

TOKYO/BEIJING — Japan has lodged a protest with China over its gas exploration in a disputed area of the East China Sea, officials said Tuesday (Aug 1), amid lingering tensions between the two countries.

“It is extremely regrettable that China is proceeding with unilateral development in the area, while the boundary between Japan and China in the East China Sea is not yet fixed,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

The government protested through diplomatic channels after confirming the presence of a Chinese drillship close to a Tokyo-proposed median line separating their exclusive economic zones, which is carrying out “some kind of activity” near gas fields, Kishida said.

The Chinese activity is believed to be part of preparations for the construction of a new drilling facility, a Japanese government official said, adding this is the first time since October 2016 that such a vessel has been spotted near the median line.

China countered the Japanese protest saying the activity is entirely within the scope of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

In a faxed statement to Kyodo News, the Foreign Ministry also said, “There is no such issue as ‘unilateral exploration’ and (we) hope Japan will earnestly respect China’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant sea areas.”

So far, China has set up 16 above-water exploration platforms in the East China Sea on its side of the median line that Japan had proposed to draw between the shorelines of the two countries.

Japan has repeatedly urged China to stop its resource development activities near the line, given that their negotiations based on a 2008 bilateral accord on joint gas development in the area have been on hiatus since tensions heightened over the sovereignty of a small group of islands in the East China Sea.

Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, speaking at a press conference, said Tuesday that Tokyo is urging Beijing to restart the stalled negotiations as soon as possible.

Japan is concerned that China may syphon off resources from beneath the Japanese side of the line and regards Beijing’s exploration program as running counter to the spirit of the 2008 accord.

China does not recognise the line in the first place and claims its EEZ stretches further to the edge of the continental shelf, closer to Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture. KYODO NEWS