April 17, 2006

China says to revise East China Sea sailing ban

TOKYO (Reuters) - China has told Japan it will revise its
ban on ships entering an area of the East China Sea that
straddles a disputed maritime border with Japan, Japan's
Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

China told Japan it made "technical errors" in imposing the
maritime traffic ban and would revise it so that it did not go
beyond a disputed median line drawn by Japan to separate the
two countries' 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zones, the
Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"I got the impression that it was a simple mistake,"
Japan's top government spokesman, Shinzo Abe, told reporters.
"I believe China is well aware of the nature of the area."

China's move follows a Japanese request for Beijing to
clarify whether it had banned ships from entering the area and
started work on expanding a gas field in disputed waters.

Chinese state media said on Tuesday that China's Maritime
Safety Administration had issued a warning on March 1 for ships
to stay away from the area of the Pinghu gas field, citing a
notice on the agency's Web site (www.msa.gov.cn).

While laying of pipes and cables and other work on the
field progressed, "unrelated ships are banned from entering the
zone of work" until September 30, the notice said.

Japan said China's move could infringe on Japan's
sovereignty and the United Nations convention on the Law of the

Japan and China are involved in a stand-off over developing
gas fields in the disputed area, one of a range of issues,
including Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to
a Tokyo war shrine that China sees as a symbol of Tokyo's past
militarism, that have hurt bilateral ties.

The two sides disagree over the position of the border
between their exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea,
and Japan fears that energy-hungry China's exploitation of the
area could tap into resources in its own zone.

Despite Japanese requests to halt development, China has
continued work on its gas fields adjacent to waters over which
Tokyo claims exclusive economic rights.

In response, Japan has granted test-drilling rights to
Teikoku Oil Co., bought last year by rival INPEX Corp.,
although drilling has not started.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said last month that
Tokyo might take counter-measures if China went ahead with
full-fledged production at gas fields in the disputed areas.