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China on Thursday warned that Japan would have to take “full responsibility” for any consequences if it proceeds with exploration for oil and gas in a contested area of the East China Sea.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang made the remark at a regular news briefing Thursday afternoon, one day after Tokyo announced it would grant Japanese firms concessions to test-drill in the disputed waters nearly halfway between Okinawa and the coast of mainland China.

“What I want to say is that we strongly demand that the Japanese side value the Chinese side’s serious concern,” Qin said. “The consequences hinge on the Japanese side.”

He said China’s exploration for natural gas, only a few kilometers west of the median line Japan has declared separates the nations’ exclusive economic zones, was China’s “normal right.” Japan believes the natural gas field China is trying to drill into extends into seabed claimed by Japan.

On Wednesday, Qin said Japan’s announcement to grant drilling rights earlier in the day was a “serious provocation to the rights of China” and runs counter to “the norm of international relations.”

But in Tokyo on Thursday, Senior Vice Foreign Minister Ichiro Aisawa brushed aside China’s charges.

“There is no change in our policy of proceeding with the procedures in line with domestic law,” Aisawa told a news conference.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura is planning to visit Beijing on Sunday, after massive anti-Japan demonstrations were held in China last weekend.

Aisawa said Japan made the decision to grant drilling rights as “we need to secure the rights of our country based on international law and the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

He reiterated Japan’s demand that China disclose information about its natural gas projects currently ongoing in the area or suspend the exploration.

China has not responded, Aisawa said, but Japan is still willing to settle the dispute through dialogue.

The state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. plans to begin full-fledged drilling in August in the area near Japan’s self-declared EEZ border.

Chinese officials have said the latest move by Tokyo is an attempt to make its “unilaterally claimed” line the de facto EEZ border.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stressed Thursday he has no desire to see the row escalate.

“China and Japan take different positions on the issue, and so there is a need to discuss things from a broad view so that (the East China Sea) is transformed from a sea of confrontation to a sea of cooperation,” he told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

Diplomats from the two sides held talks Wednesday and Thursday in Beijing to lay the groundwork for Machimura’s meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing during his visit.

A Japanese government official said discussions Wednesday touched upon the test-drilling in the East China Sea.

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