Japan is muddying the waters of the East China Sea.
It is stamping on China's maritime rights by granting Japanese firm Teikoku Oil Co. the right to test drill for gas and oil in a part of the East China Sea disputed by the two countries.
Japan's move could lead to confrontation with China.
The Chinese government's sincere calls to solve the dispute through negotiation have fallen on deaf ears in Japan.
Giving Teikoku the go-ahead to test drill is a move that makes conflict between the two nations inevitable, though what form this clash will take is hard to tell.
Teikoku will conduct experimental drilling in the East China Sea near natural gas fields currently being explored by a Chinese consortium.
Japan's attempt to force gas exploration in an area beyond the Okinawa submarine trench has many motivations.
Japan's need for oil is not a new issue. The island country has secured several oil suppliers. Gas resources in the area near the Diaoyu islets are unlikely to quench its thirst for oil.
Japan's unilateral action to start drilling, which flies in the face of international maritime laws, is not simply about new sources of energy. It reveals plainly the country's intention to take our Diaoyu islets for good.
China and Japan have long been divided over the demarcation of the continental shelf of the East China Sea. China has insisted on negotiation and appealed for joint exploration but Japan drew a "median line" without consulting China.
Japan has unilaterally demarcated a controversial exclusive economic zone (EEZ) along the "median line," which sits on the Chinese side of the continental shelf, and on which China enjoys exclusive rights.
China has never accepted the line. But Teikoku's test drilling will be conducted east of the "median line."
China's oil and gas exploration in the East China Sea is being carried out in this country's indisputable coastal waters and is a matter within the scope of China's sovereignty.
The Japanese oil firm originally applied for exploration rights in the area in 1969 and again in 1970. The Japanese government shelved the applications because of the unsettled EEZ demarcation in the waters dividing the two countries.
With the issue inconclusive, the nod from today's Japanese leaders will only serve to fan the flames of trouble.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's calls for dialogue to solve the drilling dispute with China still ring loud in our ears.
In April, Koizumi said we needed to continue talks from a broader perspective even though the Chinese and Japanese positions differed. The talks were aimed to "turn the sea of conflict into a sea of coordination."
The unilateral approval of Teikoku's exploration rights will accomplish the opposite.
Koizumi called for dialogue the day after Tokyo initiated procedures to grant Japanese firms the right to conduct test drilling for potential gas and oil fields to the east of the "median line" in the East China Sea.
Lodging a protest over the issue with the Japanese side, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said China would "retain the right to further react."
Given the important role energy issues play in the two countries, communication on the subject is bound to have a huge bearing on state-to-state relations.
Keeping a cool head and flexibility may be the way to shoot down disputes like this.
But Japan has strayed from the path of dialogue. If a confrontation were to result, the blame would sit firmly with Japan.
(China Daily July 18, 2005)