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2015年7月25日 (土)

(社説)中国ガス田 不信の連鎖に陥るな

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 24
EDITORIAL: Tokyo, Beijing must avert cycle of mutual distrust in East China Sea
(社説)中国ガス田 不信の連鎖に陥るな

China is developing gas fields in wide areas on the Chinese side of the median line between its shoreline and that of Japan in the East China Sea.

The Japanese government has released aerial photos of 16 offshore gas drilling platforms, including 12 structures that have been detected since June 2013.

In June 2008, the governments of Japan and China agreed to pursue joint development of gas fields in areas around disputed waters. Although bilateral negotiations for joint gas development have been suspended because of a flare-up over the Senkaku Islands, the agreement has not been abrogated.

China’s unilateral moves to change the status quo are totally unacceptable. The Japanese government needs to demand that Beijing call off the development of gas fields and return to the negotiation table for joint gas development.

Japan and China have been locked in a bitter diplomatic row over the extent of their respective exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea.

The two countries were supposed to have agreed to develop gas fields together while avoiding provocative actions until a border demarcation accord is reached.

But China’s activities in the region indicate that it is trying to accumulate fait accomplis for its naval expansion as it is doing in the South China Sea, where it has been reclaiming disputed reefs.

Defense Minister Gen Nakatani pointed out the possibility that the platforms China has built in the East China Sea could be used to install military facilities like radars and heliports. China may use them “for security purposes,” he said.

There may be a political motive behind the Japanese government’s decision to publish information about Beijing’s gas development activities in the region at this time. The move may be aimed at winning greater public support for the security legislation it is seeking to enact by stressing the security threat posed by China.

But Japan should avoid taking actions that could heighten military tension in the East China Sea. The only way to solve the situation is through diplomatic efforts.

It is difficult to understand why the Japanese government has not disclosed the information about the Chinese gas operations until now. Since China has clearly violated the bilateral agreement on gas development, Tokyo should have published the facts to broad audiences at home and abroad as soon as it became aware of them to obtain international understanding of Japan’s concerns.

What the two countries need to do most urgently is to make effective efforts to regain a certain degree of mutual trust.

It is vital for their leaders to discuss the issue from a broad perspective and set basic principles for how the two nations should deal with the situation.

In a bilateral summit held in 2008, the leaders of Japan and China at that time, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and President Hu Jintao, signed a joint statement pledging to make the East China Sea “a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.”

Tokyo and Beijing are now considering a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping when the Japanese leader visits China in early September.

The two governments should make that summit happen to create a diplomatic environment in which it is possible for their leaders to confirm basic principles.

In its statement about Japan’s move to publish photos showing China’s gas development activities, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it has not changed its policy of putting importance on taking actions in line with “shared recognitions concerning the East China Sea problem.” This passage could be interpreted as a signal that Beijing doesn’t want to close the door on cooperation with Japan.

Allowing the problem to trigger a cycle of mutual distrust would be detrimental to the interests of both countries.

Instead of doing what could cause the bilateral security confrontation to intensify, the two countries should use the situation as an opportunity to start moving toward expanded bilateral cooperation in the future.


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