Japan, China eye Nov. for talks on gas fields

PHOTO: Reuters

The Japanese and Chinese governments are making final adjustments to hold the fourth round of high-level maritime talks in Beijing as early as next month to discuss such issues as China's gas field development in the East China Sea, sources said.

It will be the first bilateral meeting on maritime issues since the Japanese government in July disclosed aerial photos of offshore structures that China newly constructed near the Japan-China median line for gas field development, and expressed concern over the issue.

During the talks, the Japanese government plans to protest Beijing's ongoing gas field development in the area.

China has so far constructed a total of 16 offshore structures, and Japanese Self-Defence Forces aircraft confirmed flames coming out of eight of the 16 units - evidence of gas production activities.

In particular, the Japanese government sees the No. 3 unit as problematic because it is located closest to the median line and it is highly likely that the part of the structure that is under the seabed straddles the line.

The Japanese government will likely insist during the talks that China's construction of offshore structures and drilling runs counter to the Japan-China agreement of June 2008 (see below). The Japanese government will seek to resume negotiations with the Chinese government on a treaty for joint gas field development.

A vice-ministerial level official from the Foreign Ministry as well as officials from the Defence Ministry, the Japan Coast Guard and other government bodies will likely attend the talks.

The Japan-China maritime talks started in 2012, with the third round of talks held in January in Japan.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is looking for an opportunity to hold a summit meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit to be held Nov. 15-16 in Turkey. China's gas field development is expected to be one of the major items on the agenda during the talks with Xi, if the meeting is realised.

Japan-China agreement of June 2008

The main pillars of the agreement are the establishment of a joint development zone in an area that straddles the Japan-China median line, which links points equidistant from the coastlines of the two countries, and the joint development of Shirakaba, a gas field first developed by China. The Japanese and Chinese governments started negotiations to sign a treaty on these two points, but the talks have been suspended following a clash between a Chinese fishing boat and Japan Coast Guard vessels off the Senkaku Islands in September 2010.