On Wednesday, we detailed China’s latest maritime dispute with a US ally. Just as the back-and-forth banter and incessant sabre-rattling over Beijing’s land reclamation activities in the Spratlys had died down, Washington and Manila passed the baton to Tokyo in the race to see who can prod the PLA into a naval confrontation first.
To recap, Japan apparently believes that China is strategically positioning rigs as close to a geographical equidistance line as possible in order to siphon undersea gas from Japanese waters.
Here’s a map showing the position of the rigs and the line which divides the countries’ economic zones:
And here are the rigs themselves:
Tokyo’s position is that Beijing’s exploration activities violate a 2008 joint development agreement between the two countries. Beijing, on the other hand, "erroneously" believes it has the right to development gas fields located in its territorial waters.
As we noted yesterday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga’s assurance that the spat would not endanger the slow thaw of Sino-Japanese relations didn’t sound convincing under the circumstances:
The dispute won't do anything to help Sino-Japanese relations and although Suga claims the issue won't derail diplomatic progress, one has to imagine that Beijing has had just about enough of being told what it can and can't do in what it considers to be territorial waters.
Sure enough, China has taken the rhetoric up a notch. Reuters has more:
Japan's release of pictures of Chinese construction activity in the East China Sea will only provoke confrontation between the two countries and do nothing for efforts to promote dialogue, China's Foreign Ministry said.
In a statement late on Wednesday, China's Foreign Ministry said it had every right to develop oil and gas resources in waters not in dispute that fall under its jurisdiction.
"What Japan did provokes confrontation between the two countries, and is not constructive at all to the management of the East China Sea situation and the improvement of bilateral relations," it said.
According to some accounts, China's O&G development efforts are tied to a long-running island dispute between the two countries. Here's Reuters again:
In 2012, Japan's government angered Beijing by purchasing a disputed, uninhabited island chain in the East China Sea.
Until then, Beijing had curtailed activities under a pact with Japan to jointly develop undersea resources in disputed areas.
So, spiteful retailiation or legitimate exploration and development? We'll let readers decide with the help of the following color from BBC on the history behind the Senkaku islands row.
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At the heart of the dispute are eight uninhabited islands and rocks in the East China Sea. They have a total area of about 7 sq km and lie north-east of Taiwan, east of the Chinese mainland and south-west of Japan's southern-most prefecture, Okinawa. The islands are controlled by Japan.
They matter because they are close to important shipping lanes, offer rich fishing grounds and lie near potential oil and gas reserves. They are also in a strategically significant position, amid rising competition between the US and China for military primacy in the Asia-Pacific region.
Japan says it surveyed the islands for 10 years in the 19th Century and determined that they were uninhabited. On 14 January 1895 Japan erected a sovereignty marker and formally incorporated the islands into Japanese territory.
After World War Two, Japan renounced claims to a number of territories and islands including Taiwan in the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco. These islands, however, came under US trusteeship and were returned to Japan in 1971 under the Okinawa reversion deal.
Japan says China raised no objections to the San Francisco deal. And it says that it is only since the 1970s, when the issue of oil resources in the area emerged, that Chinese and Taiwanese authorities began pressing their claims.
China says that the islands have been part of its territory since ancient times, serving as important fishing grounds administered by the province of Taiwan.