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Industry minister Shoichi Nakagawa rapped China on Friday for allowing anti-Japan rallies to take place as Tokyo was about to make a decision on starting preparations for test-drilling in disputed waters in the East China Sea.

The minister of economy, trade and industry defended Japan’s move Wednesday to initiate procedures for granting exploratory drilling rights to Japanese firms amid a deterioration in bilateral ties, and said that joint resource development in the sea area as proposed by Beijing “is an option, but not a priority.”

“When we see anti-Japan demonstrations (over last weekend) just before a Japan-China foreign ministers’ meeting and amid Japan’s decision-making process on test-drilling, we believe China should have considered the risk of offending Japan,” Nakagawa told a regular news conference.

His remarks followed China’s warning Thursday that Japan would have to take “full responsibility” for any consequences if it proceeds with exploration for oil and gas in the disputed waters.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, are scheduled to hold talks Sunday in Beijing. The gas-drilling issue is expected to be a key item on the agenda.

Nakagawa said Friday that Japan has repeatedly asked China to provide detailed data on its ongoing gas projects and halt explorations immediately so the two countries can consider the possibility of joint resource development. But China has made no official response to Japan’s requests.

Under such circumstances, Japan is “not at the stage of considering joint development as a priority,” he said.

The minister, however, said Japan is “ready to try to break the impasse through dialogue” and urged China to hold talks with Japan over the dispute “with sincerity.”

A Chinese consortium has been conducting natural gas projects in an area close to the median line that Japan claims separates the two countries’ exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea.

China does not accept the line, saying its economic waters stretch farther than the area designated by Japan. The Chinese drill platforms, however, are just a few kilometers on the Chinese side of that line.

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