Japan and China held the first round of talks in Tokyo on 27th July aimed at signing a treaty over joint gas field development in the East China Sea. The two sides had agreed to hold gas treaty talks when officials met in Hanoi last week as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings.
Akitaka Saiki, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Ocean Affairs Bureau, and Ning Fukui, director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Boundary and Ocean Affairs Department, attended the meeting to discuss the treaty, which is expected to reflect a 2008 bilateral accord.
The accord was designed to resolve a row over gas exploration, and the two countries agreed to drill jointly for oil and gas in the north of the East China Sea. The two countries agreed to jointly tap an area near the gas field known as Longjing in China and Asunaro in Japan; Japan would also invest in the development of the Shirakaba gas field, known as Chunxiao in China.
Talks between the two nations since the June 2008 agreement have been stalled however, with Japan accusing China of beginning unilateral operations of the Chinese side of the median line.
The dispute over ownership of the area originated when it was discovered that part of an undersea natural gas field lay within the Chinese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but part of it lay within a disputed EEZ between Japan and China.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, China claims the disputed ocean territory as its own EEZ, due to it being part of the PRC’s natural extension of its continental shelf. Japan, however, claims the disputed territory because it is within 200 nautical miles of Japan’s coast.
The Chunxiao gas field established by China in 2003 is clearly within the Chinese side of the EEZ boundary, but Japan argues that they may tap into a field that stretches into the disputed area.