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Japan plays down chances of China gas talk accord

Written by: Staff

TOKYO, Mar 5 (Reuters) Japan today played down expectations for a quick agreement in coming talks with China on the development of gas resources in the East China Sea, one of a series of disputes between the two Asian neighbours.

The talks taking place in Beijing tomorrow and on Tuesday will be the fourth round of negotiations so far.

Japan-China relations have sunk to their lowest point in decades over a range of disputes, particularly Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo war shrine China sees as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Trade Minister Toshihiro Nikai, who in Bejing in late February became the highest-level Japanese official to meet Chinese leaders in months, said rapid progress in the gas talks was unlikely.

''I don't think everything will be decided that quickly,'' he told a television talk show.

Nikai appeared unconcerned at the prospect of no agreement, saying that if the two sides did not reach one they could simply meet again at a later date to discuss the issue further.

''Until they actually talk and see, we don't know what might happen,'' he added.

China and Japan agree over the position of the border between their exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea, but Tokyo fears China's exploitation of resources in the area could tap into resources in its own zone.

Joint development of the project has been proposed, but no details have been agreed on how this might be achieved.

During Nikai's recent talks with Chinese leaders, Premier Wen Jiabao apparently criticised top-level visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where convicted war criminals are honoured along with the nation's war dead.

Kyodo news agency said Nikai quoted Wen as saying: ''It is unfortunate that some leaders have been unable to correctly understand Sino-Japanese history until today.'' On Sunday, Nikai said he recognised that Chinese leaders were concerned about Yasukuni but that it should not become a barrier to good bilateral relations.

''Yasukuni is not the only issue for our two nations, and too much concern about it is not to our mutual benefit,'' he added.

Reuters PG VP0938

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