• Kyodo

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China did not make any formal proposals Friday on how to resolve its dispute with Japan over gas exploration rights in the East China Sea, despite signs it was willing to do so, Japan’s delegate to the one-day meeting said.

But the two sides reached a “better understanding” after their discussions and plan to meet more often to try to reach a solution, said Kenichiro Sasae, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.

Another Foreign Ministry official said the two sides also agreed to boost talks on how to prevent accidents at sea, where both countries are in the habit of dispatching ships and planes to monitor each other.

“There was no proposal from China in the formal portion of the talks,” Sasae said after the eighth round of talks on the topic concluded. “But we discussed both formally and informally the direction we should be proceeding in the future.”

Asked whether China presented any new ideas during the informal portion of the talks, Sasae only said, “Both China and Japan presented ideas that could be characterized as extensions to our basic positions.”

Sasae met with a Chinese delegation led by Hu Zhengyue, head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Department, informally on Thursday and for formal talks on Friday.

Both China and Japan want to resolve their row over energy resources in the East China Sea through joint development of gas fields, but have been unable to agree on a location where they can do that.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao agreed in Tokyo last month that the two governments should compile a joint development plan by this fall.

In a bid to meet that goal, the two sides agreed Friday to hold the gas talks at least once a month, Sasae said.

A statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the next round of talks will be held in late June.

“The two sides expressed their respective views on the joint development of the gas and oil resources in the East China Sea in both formal and informal ways. The discussions have been in-depth and conducive,” it said.

Hopes were high among Japanese officials that China would present a new plan on where it wants the projects to be held, as Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan had hinted at the plan in a meeting with a group of Japanese lawmakers in late April.

But the Foreign Ministry official said there had subsequently been no formal word from China that it would do so.

So far, Japan has proposed the two nations jointly tap natural gas in a wide area straddling Japan’s self-proclaimed median line separating the two countries’ 200-nautical-mile (370 km) exclusive economic zones.

But China, which does not recognize the line and claims its EEZ stretches farther to the edge of the continental shelf, wants to limit that to the northern and southern areas in the East China Sea.

Japan is unhappy with that offer as one of the areas is close to the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands, claimed also by China and Taiwan.

On the prevention of accidents at sea, the Foreign Ministry official said the two sides agreed that the Japan Coast Guard and China’s State Oceanic Administration should hold talks on ways to ensure communication between the two countries.

Analysts have pointed out that accidents in the area could spiral out of control if the two countries did not have sufficient communication.

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