07/15/2005, 00.00
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Japan grants drilling rights in East China Sea

Beijing objects to what it considers a violation of its territorial sovereignty, whilst Tokyo says it is open to solve the issue through dialogue.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China today called Japan's decision to grant Teikoku Oil Co drilling rights in the East China Sea a severe provocation and violation of its sovereignty and interests. Teikoku Oil Co is Japan's second largest oil company and the area in question is claimed by both China and China.

Beijing warned that the unilateral Japanese decision "is not good for stability" in the region or "overall Sino-Japanese relations".

Cui Tiankai, a Foreign Ministry official, summoned Japan's Ambassador to lodge a protest.

Japanese Trade Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said that drilling will be allowed east of the line that Japan considers its sea boundary with China.

The Minister denied Japan was trying to "provoke China", adding that "this is just a domestic procedure" and that it was Tokyo's "unavoidable responsibility to protect the activities of Japan's private sector".

Asked whether that meant Tokyo would consider using its navy to protect Teikoku workers, Mr Nakagawa simply said: "We have various options."

In a press conference, he said he wanted to solve the dispute "through dialogue" and was open to "sincere talks [. . .] and exchange information".

"It would be a good opportunity for us to turn the sea of dispute into the sea of friendship," he added.

In recent years, China had already authorised oil exploration in the disputed area, rejecting Japanese demands for data or an end to the drilling.

Both countries are heavily dependent on imported energy supplies, and both want to find new sources to fuel their economies.

Mainland analysts view the two Asian powers vying for supremacy in Asia. Japan's would-be UN Security Council permanent seat is also at stake.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal countries can claim an economic zone extending 200 nautical miles from their shores. And the UN has until May 2009 to rule on their claims.

A Japanese survey in 1999 estimated the disputed fields contained 200 billion cubic metres of gas. (PB)

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