A Japanese embassy official provided apparent evidence Tuesday that China is drilling for natural gas and oil in a disputed part of the East China Sea, although he stressed that Japan was eager to resolve tensions through negotiations.
The official, who refused to be named identified given the sensitivity of the issue, showed reporters photos of an alleged Chinese drilling operation, with flames issuing from parts of the machinery - proof, the official said, that China had begun exploiting natural resources.
China and Japan have been feuding for months over claims to undersea gas deposits in the area. Japan wants China to stop drilling operations immediately until an agreement can be worked out between the countries. Beijing says it is within its rights to develop the region's resources.
While tension is high between the two Asian powers, the official said Japan wants to resolve the dispute through negotiations, not an international court. Officials have met on the issue three times in the past 12 months, including most recently last month. At that meeting, Japan proposed a joint exploitation of natural resources in the area.
The Chinese operations in the area appear, in some cases, to be straddling a median line between the two countries, the embassy official said, but Japan worries that China might be draining valuable oil and gas from reserves claimed by Japan.
The official also said the Japanese Self-Defense Forces recently spotted Chinese military ships near the drilling operation and had confirmed that parts of a pipeline had been completed linking the operation to the Chinese mainland.
Japan granted Teikoku Oil Co. drilling rights this year. That drew a formal protest from Beijing, which called the move a severe provocation. The official said that Teikoku hasn't begun drilling in the disputed area, and the company would consult with the government before it started.
Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both Japan and China have signed, coastal countries can claim an economic zone extending 370 kilometers (230 miles) from their shores. The disputed reserves lie within both countries' claim areas, AP reports.