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China rejects Japan warnings in sea dispute

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, Mar 16 (Reuters) China warned Japan today not to take steps to oppose Beijing developing gas fields in the East China Sea, rejecting renewed criticism from Tokyo.

Yesterday, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said his country may take retaliatory measures if China goes ahead with full-fledged production at gas fields in disputed areas of the East China Sea.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Qin Gang, told a regular news briefing in Beijing that China was acting within its rights and warned Tokyo against any ''unilateral'' steps.

''China's natural gas development activities in the East China Sea are in Chinese coastal waters that Japan does not dispute,'' Qin said. ''It's a normal activity exercising our sovereign rights.'' The Asian neighbours have held several rounds of discussions -- the most recent in Beijing last week -- over how to develop resources in the East China Sea, but have failed to reach an agreement.

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

''When the drilling starts, we would have to consider again what counter-measures we can take,'' Aso told a parliamentary committee yesterday.

Qin said the two sides should continue seeking to resolve their dispute through talks.

''If Japan takes any unilateral action in the disputed area, that would be a violation of Chinese sovereignty, which we would resolutely oppose,'' he added.

The gas dispute is one of a range of issues that have sent relations between Beijing and Tokyo spiraling downward, in particular Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo war shrine that China sees as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

REUTERS SY BST1752

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