Japan will press China to provide detailed information about its gas drilling facilities near the median line between the two countries’ exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea, amid concerns the facilities could pose a threat to Japan’s security, a government source said Wednesday.
In 2008, the countries agreed to jointly develop natural gas fields, which Tokyo believes may straddle the EEZs, and China had begun drilling on its own. Chinese facilities have since increased from four to 12, while no bilateral talks to allay Japan’s concerns have been held for years due to soured ties, a diplomatic source said.
The Defense Ministry also said Wednesday it will increase the references to the gas field issue in its 2015 white paper. In addition to the description of Chinese activities, the document will say that Japan has repeatedly protested China’s gas drilling in the East China Sea and urged it to stop the construction work, a ministry source said.
The annual paper to be released later this month will also mention that work to build a new sea platform on the Chinese side of the median line was confirmed in June 2013, according to the source.
Increased Chinese activity in the area has been evident since bilateral relations became strained after Japan, via a purchase from a Saitama landowner, effectively nationalized the uninhibited Senkaku Islands, which China also claims, in September 2012.
Helipads have been spotted on some of the Chinese facilities, and if equipped with radar or other military equipment, they could serve as Chinese military installations, according to the source. They could be used to bolster the threat posed by the contentious air defense identification zone that Beijing declared over virtually the entire East China Sea in November 2013, the sources added.
In that event, the Chinese could better track the activities of the Self-Defense Forces in the area, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani has said.
So far Tokyo has merely lodged a protest over the Chinese moves, in a bid to move forward the idea of joint development. However, it will now seek detailed information on the facilities’ functions at bilateral talks, the sources said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference Wednesday about the issue, “The government will release the information it has been collecting within a scope that does not pose problems.”
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