Japan, China progress little on gas dispute


Japan and China failed Wednesday to resolve their dispute over gas fields in the East China Sea at senior working-level talks in Tokyo.

The two countries have agreed to conduct joint exploitation but still remain apart on the details, including which areas to develop, and have been trying to strike a compromise.

Last April, when then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, they agreed to map out a detailed plan for joint development by this fall, but Foreign Ministry officials said the prospects are dim.

Tokyo is pushing to make progress on the issue before Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s visit to China, which is expected to happen by year’s end or early next year.

“At this moment in time, we couldn’t reach an agreement. But we were able to further understand each other’s position through the talks,” Kenichiro Sasae, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, said after emerging from the meeting.

Sasae said Japan proposed the two sides meet again by the end of the month, adding China responded positively. “We’ll have to find ways to agree on details that will not hurt each other’s position,” he said.

Key negotiators on the Chinese side included Hu Zhengyue, director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Department of Asian Affairs. The Japanese negotiators included Harufumi Mochizuki, director of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The gas field issue is directly linked to the bilateral dispute over Japan’s and China’s maritime boundaries.

Japan maintains that the boundary between the two nation’s exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea is the median line between their coastlines, while China argues the line should be the edge of the continental shelf, which extends so far out that it approaches Okinawa.