Japan-China gas project
In what could be a step toward resolving a long-standing dispute, Japan and China agreed on May 31 to soon start negotiations on a treaty concerning joint gas field development in the East China Sea. There will be many hurdles to clear along the way, but this is at least a welcome start.
Japan and China agreed in June 2008 to jointly develop undersea gas fields in the East China Sea, and Japan insisted that the two countries begin negotiating toward a treaty. But China remained unresponsive. Chinese public opinion at the time was vehemently opposed to such negotiations. It is believed that Beijing also took into consideration the wishes of the People's Liberation Army, which was leery of cooperating with Japan.
Tokyo's mistrust deepened when it appeared that China was expanding an existing structure at the Shirakaba gas field, the Chinese name of which is Chunxiao and in which Japanese corporations had invested. Obviously, helping Hatoyama out could not have been Beijing's motive. The most likely explanation is that Hu and Wen, who value diplomatic ties with Japan, must have finally managed to sort out matters at home.
We welcome Beijing's positive move. However, Wen made no specific proposal as to the time and place of the start of the talks. There is no doubt that reaching an accord on joint development and investment will be anything but easy. There may be another eruption of negative public opinion in China.
The exploration of East China Sea resources is an issue that can trigger intense nationalistic sentiments because the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Japan and China overlap in those waters. But this is precisely why the two nations need to look at the big picture and make compromises for profit-sharing so that Japan-China ties may develop stably over the long term.