China says to revise East China Sea sailing ban

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TOKYO, Apr 18 (Reuters) China has told Japan it will revise its ban on ships entering an area of the East China Sea that straddles a disputed maritime border with Japan, Japan's Foreign Ministry said today.

China told Japan it made ''technical errors'' in imposing the maritime traffic ban and would revise it so that it did not go beyond the disputed median line separating the two countries' 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zones, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The move follows a Japanese request for Beijing to clarify whether it had banned ships from entering the area and started work on expanding a gas field in disputed waters.

Citing an unidentified Web site of the Chinese maritime authorities, Japanese media reports said China had issued a notice banning ships from the area while it laid pipelines and cables on the ocean floor as part of an expansion of the Pinghu gas field.

Japan said China's move could infringe on Japan's sovereignty and the United Nations convention on the Law of the Sea.

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 Japan fears that energy-hungry China's exploitation of the area could tap into resources in its own zone.

Despite Japanese requests to halt development, China has continued work on its gas fields adjacent to waters over which Tokyo claims exclusive economic rights.

In response, Japan has granted test-drilling rights to Teikoku Oil Co., bought last year by rival INPEX Corp., although drilling has not started.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said last month that Tokyo might take counter-measures if China went ahead with full-fledged production at gas fields in the disputed areas.

REUTERS PDS PM0736

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