Japan okays drilling in disputed area of E. China Sea

July 14, 2005
Japan approved a request July 14 by Teikoku Oil Co. Ltd. to drill for natural gas in the East China Sea along a disputed sea border with China, prompting Beijing to warn about the possibility of worsening ties.

Eric Watkins
Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, July 14 -- Japan approved a request July 14 by Teikoku Oil Co. Ltd. to drill for natural gas in the East China Sea along a disputed sea border with China, prompting Beijing to warn about the possibility of worsening ties.

"We decided to give the rights as the firm's application suited Japan's national interests, international conventions, as well as domestic law," Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Shoichi Nakagawa told a press conference in Tokyo.

Nakagawa denied that Japan took the step to counter China's ongoing exploration in the area.

"This is simply a domestic procedure. We have no intention of provoking China," he said.

Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima also said the decision "will not affect Japan-China ties" as the event had long been expected (OGJ Online July 13, 2005).

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the decision to license acreage near an area of the East China Sea also being explored by a Chinese petroleum consortium will "further complicate" matters.

"We believe if the Japanese side insists on giving drilling rights to private enterprises in the disputed area of the East China Sea, that will constitute a severe loss to China's claim," he said.

Teikoku Oil originally applied for the license in 1969, but the government shelved its applications because of unsettled boundary.

The company did not say when it will begin drilling, stating, "We will make a judgment after consulting with relevant government bodies because there are various problems in the sea area including how to ensure the safety of workers."

On April 28, Teikoku Oil applied for the experimental drilling rights to three sites covering a combined 400 sq km in the East China Sea. The sites are just east of what Japan claims is the median line separating the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones of Japan and China in the East China Sea.

China does not recognize the line and says its economic waters stretch to the end of the continental shelf.

Contact Eric Watkins at [email protected].