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China's newly announced air defense identification zone over the East China Sea aims to shore up national security
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Cover Stories Series 2013> Monitoring East China Sea Airspace> Archive
UPDATED: July 5, 2008 NO. 28 JUL. 10, 2008
Calming Troubled Waters
China and Japan agree to jointly develop energy resources in the East China Sea

an agreement on the maritime demarcation between them. Therefore it is illogical for Japan to demand China to observe its claim. Even so, the location of Chunxiao field is five miles west (i.e., in the direction of China) of the "median line" Japan has drawn for itself. In other words, Chinese companies had already taken Japanese sensitivities into consideration.

Third, following the previous point, some Japanese arguments are just too speculative. For example, it is said that there is a potential violation of Japanese interests since gas/oil formation in rocks beneath the ocean floor is such that China maybe drawing gas/oil from the Japanese side of the "median line", regardless of the location of a gas/oil field. Hence, the logic goes, China must be stopped. This is indeed a point that is difficult to prove or disapprove by either party involved.

Fourth, in terms of the technological demands of the natural gas production process, it is only logical for gas found in the Xihu Trough to be shipped to China, whose Zhejiang Province and Shanghai can easily be reached by pipeline. Transporting that gas to Japan, either by pipeline or in liquefied form, would be extremely costly. After all, the closest Japanese destination for a pipeline is Okinawa, which means a pipeline will have to cross the Okinawa Trough (over 2000 meters deep). In addition, to liquefy the natural gas produced on the spot, it is necessary to have facilities to freeze that gas to over 160 degrees Celsius below freezing point. Thus far, neither Chunxiao nor any other field in the region is known to hold reserves anywhere close to justifying investment to liquefy gas produced there.

Finally, as recently as 1999, China's development of the Pinghu gas/oil field received support from Japan in the form of a $250-million loan from the Asian Development Bank, which Japan chairs. Pinghu, also in the Xihu Trough, is located 375 km southeast of Shanghai and covers 240 square km. It is possible to be legalistic about different attitudes by Japan toward China's search for energy in the Xihu Trough and thereby justifying the treatment of Pinghu as just another case of commercial interaction. However, it needs to be born in mind that for the average observer, consistency in a government's diplomatic position is just as important.

Future prospects

With the announcement of the government-level consensus for joint development, China and Japan have a chance to prove themselves to be capable of managing long-held differences through amicable negotiations. Indeed, back in 1978, when Deng Xiaoping was asked about his vision for the future of the Diaoyu Island held by Japan, which calls them Senkaku, he mused about the emergence of a new generation of Chinese and Japanese who are wiser and therefore more capable of finding a solution acceptable to both.

How the recent consensus plays out remains to be seen. In the process, however, it is critically important to bear in mind the cost of willful confrontation that was a clear hallmark of political relationships in the recent past.

In this regard, it is incumbent upon us to respond to the challenge of being frank when it comes to commenting on the gas/oil fields in the East China Sea. For example, the international media have for years repeated claims that the East China Sea holds vast amounts of energy that can make a significant difference in satisfying Chinese and/or Japanese demands, now and in the future. The fact of the matter is that there is no consensus

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