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TODAY SPECIAL
 
Japan pressed to talk before scouring seabed
Tokyo should talk to Beijing about its proposed strategy to scour the seafloors near China's Diaoyu Islands for rare metals, as any unilateral move on its part may likely "trigger a clash" between the Asian neighbors, analysts told China Daily on Monday.

The Japanese government is expected to approve as early as June a new national strategy on securing undersea resources, Kyodo News Agency reported, citing a copy of the government document.

Under the new strategy, Japan is keen to explore the seabed within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area that extends 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) offshore or to the half-way points to neighboring countries, according to Kyodo. The areas to be explored cover 340,000 square kilometers (136,000 square miles) of the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, it reported.

China claims indisputable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and adjacent islets. Japan too regards the Diaoyu Islands as its own territory. The two countries also hold disputes on overlapping claims of their extended continental shelf in the East China Sea where both countries have oil-drilling platforms.

"China will definitely oppose the plan," Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of Japanese studies at the China Foreign Affairs University, said. Zhou said China has acknowledged that territorial disputes exist, and that Tokyo should first communicate with Beijing if it is to continue with its search.

Japan and other Asian nations are all trying to secure rare metals needed to develop a range of products from fuel-efficient hybrid cars and batteries to mobiles and liquid crystal display televisions.
Last year, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology announced plans to send robotic submarines to study areas near seabed volcanos for minerals, AFP reported. It said experts believe exploiting those remote and hard-to-reach deposits will become feasible despite the huge technical challenges and expense, as certain minerals become scarcer worldwide.

Zhou said China's reaction would also vary depending on the scale of Japan's operation. If it is a small reconnaissance patrol through the region, then China is not likely to prevent it, "but massive drilling will surely trigger a clash, and that will pose a bigger threat," he said.

The professor said bilateral negotiations on territorial disputes have progressed little over the years and the issue should be mediated by a third party such as the United Nations-mandated International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. "We need to change our strategy. China's influence is expanding and now we can afford to turn to a fair third party rather than just talking with Japan."

Jin Linbo, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, suggested that Tokyo should communicate with Beijing before taking any unilateral action, which may be "misinterpreted" by China.

China's growing military presence and exercises at sea have also worried Japan in recent years. "The increase in frequency and size of our military exercise is normal; it only shows that China's navy is getting stronger. As long as it does not breach any law, other countries should gradually get used to it," Jin added.
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