China delays gas talks over collision

Dispute sets back treaty on field development

Compiled From Kyodo, AP

China said Saturday it has decided to postpone talks with Japan aimed at signing a treaty over joint gas field development in the East China Sea in protest over Tokyo’s handling of a Chinese fishing boat that hit two Japan Coast Guard patrol ships near the disputed Senkaku Islands.

The two governments had planned to hold the second round of negotiations on a gas exploration treaty in mid-September in Beijing. The first round of talks was held in late July in Tokyo.

“The Japanese side has ignored China’s repeated solemn representations and firm opposition, and obstinately decided to put the Chinese captain under the so-called judiciary procedures,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.

“China expresses strong discontent and grave protest,” Jiang said, adding, “Japan will reap as it has sown, if it continues to act recklessly.”

China has said the confrontation could damage its relations with Japan, showing the sensitivity of the territorial dispute, one of several that trouble China’s ties with its Asian neighbors. As the robust Chinese economy’s demand for resources grows, Beijing’s commercial ships are venturing farther from shore and its more powerful navy is enforcing claims in disputed waters.

Japanese officials voiced regret at the Chinese announcement, and plan to call on China to remain calm in responding to the incident.

“It is regrettable that China unilaterally announced the postponement (of the talks),” a source at the prime minister’s office said. A senior Foreign Ministry official said Tokyo “cannot accept (China’s move) to link the incident to the gas field issue.”

On Friday, a court in Okinawa Prefecture granted a prosecutors’ request for a 10-day detention for the Chinese fishing boat’s captain.

Prosecutors alleged that the skipper, Zhan Qixiong, 41, deliberately hit a patrol boat near the islands Tuesday and obstructed public officers performing their duties. The crew is also suspected of unlawful fishing operations in Japanese territorial waters.

The Senkaku Islands are part of the city of Ishigaki in Okinawa Prefecture. The islands are claimed by China and Taiwan, known in China as Diaoyu and in Taiwan as Tiaoyutai.

“The Diaoyu Islands and its adjacent islets have been Chinese territory since ancient times,” Xinhua quoted Jiang as saying. “Japan’s acts have violated the law of nations and basic international common sense, and are ridiculous, illegal and invalid.”

No injuries were reported in the incident, but the Chinese boat was seized.

During a meeting on Aug. 28 in Beijing, Yang and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada agreed the two countries will try to conclude negotiations on the gas exploration treaty soon.

The bilateral gas dispute stems from the unsettled demarcation of the East China Sea where the exclusive economic zones claimed by the two countries overlap.

In May, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama agreed at a meeting in Tokyo to soon launch negotiations.

Earlier, China had remained cautious about starting the gas treaty talks following an outcry against what is viewed as a concession to Japan under a June 2008 accord meant to address the row.

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi summoned Japanese Ambassador to China Uichiro Niwa and demanded that Japan immediately and unconditionally release the Chinese boat and all crew members.