War :Japan-China Oil Dispute Escalates


Richard Moore

    But Japan has grown so alarmed by China's activities in the
    East China Sea that it dispatched two envoys to Washington
    this month to brief Bush administration and State Department
    officials on what authorities here described as a "major
    threat to Japanese sovereignty."

There are so many flash points these days, from Syria to the 
East China Sea, that one cannot keep up. We're sitting on a
geopolitical powder keg. As regards this particular report,
we should keep in mind that Washington has pushing
for Japan to militarize, and become a nuclear buffer state
between China and the U.S.



Japan-China Oil Dispute Escalates 
Relations Already Uneasy as Tokyo Accuses Beijing of Tapping Disputed Fields 

By Anthony Faiola 
Washington Post Foreign Service 
Saturday, October 22, 2005; A17 

TOKYO, Oct. 21 -- China has completed at least one new
drilling platform in the East China Sea and may already be
tapping into hotly contested natural gas and oil fields,
escalating a dispute with Japan over the rights to billions of
dollars worth of underwater energy reserves, according to
Japanese reconnaissance data.

The Chinese action, Japanese officials charge, has aggravated
a potential flash point in East Asia even as diplomatic
relations between Tokyo and Beijing languish. The increasingly
uneasy relationship between East Asia's two dominant countries
also includes territorial disputes and a heated row over
Japan's perceived lack of repentance for World War II-era

China is rapidly growing into an economic superpower and is
hungry for sources of energy and raw materials. Economic ties
have grown tremendously between the two nations in recent
years, but they remain in fierce regional competition. Both,
for instance, are courting Russia in the hopes of securing an
advantageous route for a new trans-Siberian pipeline to the
Pacific, and they are locked in a battle for diplomatic and
economic influence over a host of Southeast Asian nations.

But Japan has grown so alarmed by China's activities in the
East China Sea that it dispatched two envoys to Washington
this month to brief Bush administration and State Department
officials on what authorities here described as a "major
threat to Japanese sovereignty."

Officials in Tokyo, speaking on the condition of anonymity
given the sensitivity of the issue, said Japanese
reconnaissance aircraft in September detected flames atop a
stack on a Chinese drilling platform -- an indication it is
functional and may have started gas or oil extraction. The
platform had been under construction for two years but did not
function while Japan and China wrangled over drilling rights
in the area, about halfway between Shanghai and Okinawa.

A second Chinese drilling platform in the area also appears
nearly complete, officials said, and Japan has detected signs
that China's state oil company is close to finishing a
pipeline to the platforms that would connect them to the
Chinese mainland. Twice in the past six weeks, Japanese
officials said, they have detected five warships dispatched by
China "in a show of force" near the drilling sites. Beijing
has said the ships were merely conducting "ordinary exercises"
in the region.

How Japan responds, analysts said, will signal much about
whether the Tokyo government is prepared to enter a new era of
assertiveness to protect its national interests. In the
post-World War II era, Japan has tended to shy away from
anything resembling aggression, choosing to solve disputes
through diplomacy instead.

But leading politicians and policymakers here said Japan was
ready to take bolder steps. In July, Japan granted a license
to Tokyo-based Teikoku Oil Co. to conduct its own exploration
in the area -- including in disputed waters. Japanese
officials said they would give a green light to Teikoku to
proceed into the East China Sea, perhaps with an escort of
Japanese coast guard vessels, if the two nations cannot reach
a negotiated settlement in the near term.

Huang Xingyuan, chief spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in
Tokyo, said any move by the Japanese to explore for oil or gas
supplies in the disputed area would be viewed by Beijing "as
an invasion of Chinese territory and be viewed as a highly
provocative act." He would not confirm or deny Japan's claim
that China was already drilling in the area, but said, "It is
of no importance to the Japanese because the area is
completely within Chinese waters and we are within our rights
to operate there."

To be sure, the two drilling platforms in question appear to
lie just within the Chinese side of a dividing line that Japan
has already acknowledged as separating the territorial waters
of both nations. Japan argues, however, that China is tapping
into energy fields that straddle an area claimed by both Japan
and China.

Official surveys say the disputed fields contain an estimated
7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and up to 100 billion
barrels of oil.

The Japanese also say China's refusal to provide information
on its drilling in the area has made it impossible to
determine whether its physical operations have in fact crossed
into Japanese-claimed waters.

Huang denied that. "They know perfectly well the location of
Chinese operations," he said. "And it is not within areas
claimed by Japan."

Japan has suggested that the two sides settle the dispute by
agreeing to co-develop energy in the East China Sea. China and
Japan discussed the proposal in talks earlier this month in
Tokyo, but the two sides strongly disagreed on the areas of

Now the Chinese are blaming Japan for tensions that cast doubt
on further talks. They cite Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's
controversial visit Monday to a Tokyo shrine honoring military
dead including World War II criminals, which drew outrage and
condemnation from Beijing and resulted in China's decision to
halt the schedule for planning further bilateral meetings.

Japanese officials said oil exploration by the Japanese firm
was unlikely until at least next summer, citing technical and
bureaucratic reasons along with a desire to exhaust all
attempts at negotiations first.

"We need to take proper measures even at the risk of making
the situation more volatile," said Katsuei Hirasawa, an energy
and oil committee member and legislator in Japan's lower
house. "We need to remind China that we are ready and willing
to defend our territory and interests."

Correspondent Edward Cody in Beijing contributed to this

© 2005 The Washington Post Company 



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