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. Japan says China has begun production in disputed gasfield
TOKYO (AFP) Sep 20, 2005
Japan said Tuesday that China has started production of gas or oil in a disputed energy field in the East China Sea where Chinese warships were recently spotted, and it would consider countermeasures.

Japanese officials have spotted flames spouting out of a Chinese drilling facility just on China's side of what Japan says is a dividing line in the potentially lucrative field. China does not recognize the line.

"We are not sure whether it is oil or gas. But we have confirmed that they have finally started digging," Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Shoichi Nakagawa told a news conference.

"The government is coordinating to consider ways to deal with this. The facility is located in the area of the dispute, although it is not clear whether the gasfield crosses the median line," he added.

Japan says that China, even if it digs from its side, could extract Japanese resources underground. It wants an agreement between the two countries before either starts extraction.

China and Japan, whose relations have worsened this year, have repeatedly protested to each other over the disputed field. But a series of high-level meetings has led to no agreement other than to continue dialogue.

In Beijing foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said that China's position "has not changed" despite Japan's new assertion.

"China has repeatedly clarified its position and I will reiterate that China's exploration in the gasfield is conducted in undisputed waters near China's coast and we are willing to conduct dialogue so as to properly resolve the dispute and maintain a stable situation in the East China Sea," he said.

Nakagawa said he hoped Japan and China would resume dialogue on the issue. Qin said only that arranging the next round "requires further contact and consultations by the two sides."

Japan said Chinese warships were seen near the gasfield for the first time on September 9, two days before Japan's general election. China said they were on a routine exercise.

China began test-drilling unilaterally in the East China Sea in 2003. Japan accuses Beijing of reaching into Tokyo's exclusive economic zone, and in July the government for the first time granted a Japanese firm permission to explore the area.

A Japanese survey in 1999 estimated that the disputed field held a massive 200 billion cubic meters (seven trillion cubic feet) of gas.

Japan and China, two of the world's biggest energy importers, have also clashed over securing priority to an oil pipeline being built in Russia.

Relations have seriously deteriorated this year over both the gasfield and China's view that Japan has not properly atoned for its aggression last century.

China saw some of its biggest protests in years in April after Japan approved a history textbook that makes little mention of atrocities by Japanese imperial troops.

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