• Kyodo

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Japan and China on Wednesday started a two-day meeting of senior officials on maritime issues, including a system aimed at preventing unintended clashes in and over nearby waters and the possible restart of talks on joint gas development in the East China Sea.

The convening of the maritime talks, attended by senior diplomats and defense and coast guard officials from both countries, was agreed between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping at their meeting earlier this month in China amid tensions around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

The focus of the talks, held in the city of Hiroshima, is on whether the officials will make progress toward the early launch of a “Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism” between their defense officials aimed at averting miscalculations that could lead to conflict in the East China Sea.

The process has made little headway as Chinese government vessels have recently increased their presence around the Japan-administered, China-claimed group of uninhabited islets, with some entering Japanese territorial waters, prompting protests by Tokyo.

Talks over the joint gas development project in the East China Sea, which the two countries agreed in 2008, have also stalled as bilateral relations have often been strained by territorial and historical issues.

Japan has expressed concern that drilling platforms and foundations built by China, including some producing plumes of flame indicative of gas production, go against the spirit of the 2008 bilateral accord.

The maritime talks were launched in 2012 with the goal of promoting confidence-building between senior officials in charge of maritime affairs in the two countries. The latest meeting is the fifth of its kind, following a session last December in China.

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