Japan, China Agree to Restart Gas Field Talks as Soon as March

TOKYO Feb.19, 2007 (Dow Jones Newswires)

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China's Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing Friday agreed to resume talks as early as March on possible joint development of gas fields in an area claimed by both countries in the East China Sea, a senior METI official said Monday.

Details such as the venue and date haven't been decided, said Takao Kitabata, Japan's Vice Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.

High-level Chinese and Japanese officials had met six times from October 2004 to July 2006 to try to resolve the territorial dispute, but had reached no agreement. Both countries claim sovereignty rights over the area.

On Friday, Li, who was on an official visit to Japan, suggested to Abe that talks could resume as early as March, and said China wants to pursue discussions "in a patient and serious manner," according to Kitabata.

In October 2006, Abe told China that the two sides will make the East China Sea "a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship." Still, the dispute has remained unresolved.

On Jan. 31, Japan's foreign ministry strongly urged China to investigate the production status of a gas field in the disputed area. A Hong Kong newspaper reported on the day that a Chinese energy company had begun supplying natural gas to mainland China from the gas field, known as Chunxiao in China and Shirakaba in Japan.

On Feb. 4, four days after Japan's protest, a Chinese vessel was found conducting research near Senkaku islands, known as Diaoyu in China, in the southwestern part of the disputed area.

Tokyo demanded that China stop such activities immediately, but China said the islands belong to it.

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