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International relations

Tokyo and Beijing discuss gas project and plastic waste

Senior officials seek to deepen collaboration on maritime issues

Chinese gas drilling rigs in a disputed area of the East China Sea, seen in 2005.   © Reuters

WUZHEN, China -- Japan and China confirmed on Monday that they will discuss restarting long-stalled talks on joint development of a gas field in the East China Sea, at the insistence of Tokyo.

The Japan-China high-level consultation on maritime affairs was held in the Zhejiang Province city of Wuzhen. It was a follow-up to the October summit in Beijing, where Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to step up communication with the aim of restarting the talks soon.

The Chinese were found in 2004 to be developing a gas field near the median line between the two nations in the East China Sea. The two governments agreed in 2008 to negotiate joint development, but the talks have been suspended since 2010, when a Chinese fishing boat collided with a Japanese patrol vessel near Japan-administered islets claimed by China.

This year, after Abe's visit to China, the Japanese government lodged a protest against what appears to be test drilling by the Chinese in the field. The Japanese side is eager to make progress on the matter before Xi's planned visit to Japan next year.

The meeting on Monday also discussed a proposed security hotline to defuse maritime confrontations between Japan's Self-Defense Forces and the Chinese navy. The two sides agreed as well to conduct a joint survey in China on plastic waste in the sea in 2019, as part of efforts to improve relations through environmental collaboration.

"We hope to manage the differences in the two countries' positions and contribute to peace and stability of the East China Sea," Zhou Jian, a border and sea affairs official at China's Foreign Ministry, said at the start of the meeting.

Hiroshi Ishikawa, deputy director-general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, responded, "We hope to create more opportunities to improve relations by pushing concrete projects."

Japan and China hold maritime affairs meetings twice yearly, with the next one planned for early 2019 in Japan.

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