BEIJING (Kyodo) Japan and China remained apart over main points of contention during weekend talks on the dispute over gas exploration rights in the East China Sea, but they agreed to set up a panel of technical experts to help resolve the row, Japanese officials said.

In their two days of talks in the Chinese capital, the two countries also agreed to set up a mechanism to avoid “contingencies” in the East China Sea, the officials said.

“We exchanged views from various angles, and as a result, I think our understanding over the issue has deepened,” Kenichiro Sasae, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, told reporters shortly after the conclusion of the talks.

“But a gap remains, and the two sides will bring back (the result of the discussions to their governments) to think about it further,” Sasae said.

The dispute stems from unsettled demarcation of the East China Sea where the two countries’ economic waters overlap.

A Chinese consortium has been developing gas fields in an area close to waters Japan claims and Japan is concerned the action could siphon off resources from what it claims to be the Japanese side.

One of the major sticking points — Japan’s demand that China halt its ongoing gas projects and present data on them — remained unresolved in the latest talks, according to the Japanese officials.

“We urged very strongly that the Chinese side halt their operations, as Japan and China are in talks over the issue,” Nobuyuki Kodaira, director general of the National Resources and Energy Agency, told reporters.

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