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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #312: September 22, 2005

Japan, China to Hold Talks on Gas Drilling

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Japan, China to Hold Talks on Gas Drilling
(AP) BusinessWeek


China has recently been a focus of concern for its gulping down world's energy supplies to sustain economic growth - which is probably too fast - using old and less energy efficient equipment, without caps on the heat-trapping gas emission being imposed for the reason that China is still a "developing" country. (The last point alone is an interesting claim as China, among its powerful and ever being reinforced military powers, already maintaining a fleet of nuclear submarines, being the third country to send a man into space, and holding a permanent seat in the UN Security Council so as to be able to "lead" the world.)

China has for a while been developing oil-gas field in the East China Sea in the way Japan's rights might be neglected. Japan was protesting against China all during the while, and finally, as reported above, a meeting has been planned to discuss the matter.

In fact, the real issues are of the type that can be discussed in technical and economic terms without making it into a political conflict. This is not to discount the underlying complexity - both technical and economic, but by endeavoring to cooperate in solving, it could benefit both Japan and China. The issues are essentially in two folds.

First is the issue of exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, which both Japan and China accede to, stipulates that generally a state's EEZ extends 200 nautical miles (370 km) out from its coast, except where resulting points would be closer to another country. Within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the coastal state has sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving, and managing natural resources, both living and nonliving, of the seabed, subsoil, and the subjacent waters and, with regard to other activities, for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone.

Apparently, there is no absolute rule established on how the borderline of the EEZs should be drawn when two countries are close. Traditionally, there was a claim that the EEZ extends to the tip of the continental shelf - the formula China is insisting. But recently, median line between the neighboring countries has been widely accepted as the borderline - the method Japan adheres to. In fact, every dispute settled through arbitrations and judicial procedures in the recent 20 years among various countries favors the median line method.

The second issue is that if the median line method were to be adopted, China's gas-oil field development may infringe upon Japan's rights. It is true that the drilling facilities are located immediately to the Chinese side of the median line - by which China claims there should be no problem. However, earlier and preliminary survey of the area indicates that the fields are likely to be stretched out on both sides of the line, in which case China's development could suck out the resources that are supposed to be Japan's.

It is understandable for China to utilize every effort to ensure supply of sufficient energy to sustain the economy. And the desire becomes even stronger if oil and natural gas can be acquired solely with its own effort, without going through tedious and sometimes, in their Sinocentric mentality, humiliating process of negotiating with other countries who have the sort of resources. Thus, it might have been no surprise to some that China began drilling in the region, where the only country it might offend would be Japan, whose constitution does not allow any use of military powers to make its point, with a perfect track record of 60 years to back it.

Let us hope China is more matured than what may seem to have been. Chinese policy-makers should realize that the current situation of being at the fringe of a confrontation can be changed to a win-win scenario through constructive discussions.

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