• Kyodo News

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Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano on Wednesday denounced China’s reported unilateral start of drilling in a disputed gas field in the East China Sea.

The top government spokesman told a news conference that the drilling, as reported by a newspaper based on remarks by a named senior official at China National Offshore Oil Corp., “is very regrettable” and Japan is asking China to verify the claim.

Edano said Japan will decide on its response after receiving a reply from Beijing.

The gas field, called Shirakaba in Japan and Chunxiao in China, is located near what Tokyo claims is the median line between the exclusive economic zones of the two countries.

Development there was first started by China, but due to Japan’s opposition the two countries struck a deal in 2008 that Japanese companies would invest in the project.

Officials at the Foreign Ministry and the Natural Resources and Energy Agency told a meeting of the Liberal Democratic Party that high-level Chinese officials have told Japan that the oil firm has been engaged in “maintenance and repair” operations in the sea area.

The officials said Japan, which has been monitoring the gas field by dispatching planes, has not officially confirmed the start of gas drilling.

Japan and China are seeking to sign a treaty over joint gas field development in the East China Sea, but China unilaterally postponed the talks in protest of Japan’s handling of the September incident near the disputed Senkaku Islands.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, touching on the deadlocked negotiations, told a news conference this week the two countries must first “foster sound conditions and environment.”

The Asahi Shimbun reported Wednesday from Beijing quoting the state-owned China National Offshore Oil as saying drilling has started in the gas field.

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