• Kyodo

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Japan expressed opposition Wednesday to exploitation by China of a natural gas field that may stretch into the seabed under contested waters in the East China Sea, having received news Beijing is making moves to that end.

“We conveyed our serious concerns (to China) through diplomatic channels,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

In the latest development threatening to worsen bilateral relations that are already tense due to the dispute over the Senkaku islets in the sea, Japan has confirmed that a large Chinese crane ship is building a drilling platform at a point near the Japan-claimed border between their exclusive economic zones.

Although the point is in the Chinese EEZ, it is only 26 km from the border, raising the prospect that the undersea gas field may extend into the Japanese side. Tokyo has proposed joint development of the area, but bilateral talks on the matter have stalled and Japan has yet to start any attempt to tap the gas field from waters it claims.

“It is not acceptable if China unilaterally develops (gas fields) in the waters where Japanese and Chinese claims overlap,” Suga said, adding China has not responded to Tokyo’s protest.

The issue stems from the unresolved demarcation of the East China Sea where the countries’ economic waters overlap.

Tokyo is long aware of Chinese gas drilling at four other points near the so-called median line between their coastlines, which Japan regards as the two countries’ demarcation line under domestic law. China says its EEZ extends much farther from the mainland.

In a related development Wednesday, seven Chinese naval vessels passed an international strait off Kyushu, the Defense Ministry said.

The four destroyers, two guided missile frigates and a support ship were seen sailing north through the Tsushima Strait off Nagasaki Prefecture and between Japan and South Korea, early Wednesday, a ministry official said.

Passage through the Tsushima Strait, a high seas corridor, does not pose a problem under international law, even for warships.

Chinese naval vessels were last seen sailing through the strait in August 2011, according to the ministry.

According to China’s Xinhua News Agency, a fleet of seven naval vessels departed from Qingdao harbor in eastern China on Monday to take part in joint naval drills with Russia in the Sea of Japan, apparently coinciding with the seven ships seen passing through the Tsushima Strait.