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Beijing gave the go-ahead Tuesday for Japan to salvage a suspected North Korean spy ship that sank in China’s exclusive economic zone in December after a running gunbattle with Japan Coast Guard vessels.

The agreement was reached in negotiations in Beijing. Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and her Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, were to confirm the accord Wednesday in Thailand amid the inaugural meeting of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, a local ministerial forum.

Kawaguchi left for Thailand on Tuesday.

China gave the green light on condition that Japan guard against harming the marine environment during the operation, an official from the Foreign Ministry said.

“In our talks, we will discuss how Japan and China should cooperate in the (salvaging) operations,” Kawaguchi told a news conference in the morning.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi instructed the Foreign Ministry to get permission from China to salvage the mystery ship before the arrival of the typhoon season. Japan aims to start the operation before the end of the month, because the typhoon season in the East China Sea starts in July. It should take about a month, the official said.

China is also asking Japan to compensate local fishing ships who have been unable to work in the area of the sunken ship due to the presence of Japanese patrol vessels since the incident.

Kawaguchi said Japan is “well aware of the problem” and that the government will deal with the matter “appropriately,” although she added that anything Japan has to offer will not take the form of compensation.

The government is more likely to offer some kind of financial aid. In a document handed to the Chinese side Tuesday afternoon, Japan said it will “seriously consider China’s demand and will take sincere measures.”

The two sides will continue discussing the measures Japan should take while the salvage is taking place, the official said. Japan will also give an advance notification to China about the details of the operation, and Japanese vessels will immediately withdraw from the area after the salvage operations ends, according to the agreement.

The mystery ship was initially spotted in Japanese waters and pursued by the coast guard into China’s EEZ in the East China Sea. An undersea probe determined that raising the ship is technically feasible.

Japan suspects the ship was engaged in espionage operations for North Korea, although Pyongyang has strongly denied any link to the vessel.

Japan’s efforts to win China’s approval of the salvage operation were temporarily sidelined when Chinese police dragged five North Korean asylum seekers out of the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang in May.

A senior ministry official said the two sides judged it would be unwise to further damage relations by delaying a salvage decision.

“The bilateral foreign ministerial talks will be a meeting to put the stalled Japan-China relations back on a recovery track,” the official said.

The Asia Cooperation Dialogue, a Thai initiative, is a ministerial forum that will address economic and political issues.

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