Beijing may be ‘testing Tokyo’s resolve’ with drilling missions in contested parts of East China Sea


Tokyo has lodged an official complaint with Beijing after a Chinese exploration vessel was identified operating in a contested part of the East China Sea, with analysts in Japan suggesting Beijing was “testing” Tokyo’s resolve.

The Chinese ship was sighted in mid-November apparently drilling test boreholes into the seabed in search of oil or gas deposits close to the median line Japan proposed should serve as the maritime border between the two nations.

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The two countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones overlap in the East China Sea, leading to the dispute over precisely where the line should be drawn, while there is also concern in Japan that resources extracted on the Chinese side may actually be coming from deposits in the Japanese sector.

The disputed islands known as Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China. Photo: Reuters
Tokyo has proposed the problem be resolved by jointly developing the resources in the region, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approaching Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina to repeat Tokyo’s call for the two governments to reopen talks.

An agreement reached in 2008 between the two nations to work together to extract any natural resources has been put on hold since tensions intensified over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands – which are known as the Senkaku islands in Japan.

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Abe’s request to Xi was likely prompted by the Chinese test drilling operation, which Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga criticised in a regular press conference in Tokyo on Monday.

“It is extremely regrettable that China has continued its unilateral development activities in the waters, while the boundary [between Japan and China] has not been set,” he said.