Wen open to treaty to end gas field row

But premier yet to commit to punishment for Pyongyang


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao agreed Monday in Tokyo with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to begin bilateral negotiations on a treaty over gas fields in the East China Sea.

Japan and China agreed in 2008 to jointly develop the gas fields, but there has been little progress on implementation.

“There was a clear difference” in Wen’s position over the gas fields, said a Foreign Ministry official who attended the summit.

“Until now, (Wen) had said that negotiations would begin only when the environment is set, but this time . . . he said that he wanted to put into practice the June 2008 agreement in order to turn (the disputed area) into a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The two leaders spent about the first 30 minutes of their 80-minute meeting discussing North Korea’s alleged sinking in March of a South Korean warship, with Hatoyama urging Wen to back calls for a U.N. resolution against Pyongyang.

But the ministry official didn’t divulge any comments on the issue from the Chinese side, saying Beijing asked Tokyo not to do so.

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak released last week the findings of an international probe that concluded a North Korean torpedo fired from a submarine sank the corvette Cheonan, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

Japan and the United States have called for firm measures against Pyongyang, but China, the hermit state’s key ally, has called for restraint.

“I support the report that South Korea jointly conducted with other countries,” Hatoyama was quoted as telling Wen. “Based on international rules, North Korea should be harshly condemned so that something like this never happens again.”

The ministry official said Hatoyama, getting back to discussing the East China Sea, expressed concern over the “recent activities of China in the surrounding sea area.”

According to Tokyo, Chinese military helicopters came unusually close to Maritime Self-Defense Force ships in April and Chinese government survey ships confronted Japan Coast Guard survey vessels in Japan’s exclusive economic zone in May, raising tensions.

One of the Japanese participants in the meeting said Wen didn’t directly address the maritime issues but expressed interest in establishing a crisis-management mechanism to prevent incidents that could trigger bilateral friction, including accidental contact involving military ships.

Hatoyama and Wen also discussed bilateral exchanges and economic cooperation, and signed several agreements, including a food-safety initiative in response to the political row over tainted Chinese-made frozen dumplings imported to Japan in 2007.