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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

Japan, China to hold working-level maritime talks

  • September 14, 2016
  • , Asahi , p. 5
  • JMH Translation

Japan and China begin two days of working-level maritime talks by senior officials in Hiroshima City today. The last such talks were held about nine months ago. The focal point will be whether or not they can restart the negotiations after six years with the aim of concluding a treaty for joint development of natural gas fields in the East China Sea. Tensions in the East China Sea have increased since then, however, making productive discussions more difficult.

 

The East China Sea gas fields, along with the issue of the Senkaku islands, have been one of the outstanding issues between Japan and China. After the two countries’ leaders agreed on joint development of the gas fields in 2008 the (2008 Agreement), the negotiations ground to a halt after the last meeting in July 2010. At the Japan-China summit meeting last week, the two countries’ leaders made a decision to “begin preparations for restarting the negotiations.”

 

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko said at a briefing that “we strongly hope to reopen the negotiations.” According to a senior MOFA official, the government’s desire for progress in the negotiations comes from a sense of urgency and the impending crisis about “China’s successive construction of platforms in the East China Sea that may allow China to present its effective control over the islands as a fait accompli.”

 

China started developing a gas field called “Shirakaba” (Chinese:” Chun xiao”) in 2003. The gas field is located very close to the territorial border claimed by Japan. Although the field still lies on the Chinese side, the construction’s proximity to the “middle line” led then METI minister Shoichi Nakagawa to claim: ”It is tapping resources on the Japanese side,” bringing the issue to light.

 

China since accelerated development of gas fields in the area around the middle line. Japan published photographs of platforms, now totaling 16, last July. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga lodged a protest against the unilateral development of the gas fields, and has requested China cease construction a number of times.

 

More recently, security concerns are gathering attention as well. Former minister of defense Gen Nakatani said: “China may utilize the platforms in the area for security purposes,” suggesting there is a possibility that China will equip the platforms with radars. There is concern that the East China Sea will follow the path of the South China Sea where Beijing is currently enhancing militarization of the area.

 

Japan will request that the two sides reopen negotiations for a treaty in accordance with the 2008 Agreement that states: “The East China Sea will be dedicated to peace, cooperation and friendship.” However, in spite of the fact that the temporary suspension of construction activities by China is the essential condition for the negotiations, provocations by Chinese government vessels in the East China Sea have been intensifying every year.

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