TOKYO, Apr 16 (Reuters) China has issued a ban on ships entering an area of the East China Sea near a disputed maritime border with Japan while it works on an offshore gas field, Japanese media reported.
Citing an unidentified Web site of the Chinese maritime authorities, Kyodo news agency said China would ban ships from the area while it laid pipelines and cables on the sea floor as part of an expansion of the Pinghu gas field.
The work will last until September 30 this year, it said.
The area straddles the disputed median line separating the two countries' 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zones and covers some waters Japan regards as in its exclusive area, Kyodo said late yesterday, citing unidentified Japanese embassy sources in Beijing.
NHK television today quoted Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso as saying he had not heard of the Chinese move and could not comment.
Japan and China are involved in a stand-off over developing gas fields in the disputed area, one of a range of issues, including Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo war shrine that China sees as a symbol of Tokyo's past militarism, that have hurt bilateral ties.
The two sides disagree over the position of the border between their exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea, and Tokyo fears energy-hungry China's exploitation of the area could tap into resources in its own zone.
Kyodo said Japan is expected to make a formal protest to China over the shipping ban.
REUTERS PDS BD0713