Two Japanese companies have sought government permission to drill for oil and natural gas in a disputed area in the East China Sea where Chinese companies are already at work, a press report said yesterday.
Japan Petroleum Exploration Co and Teikoku Oil Co have sought approval to explore in an area some 450km west of Japan's southern Okinawa island, the leading business daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported.
The government, which has hesitated to grant drilling rights in the area after awarding provisional concessions to Japanese firms some three decades ago, is expected to approve the request before March next year, the newspaper said.
The two companies will possibly launch undersea surveys and test drilling operations with government financial help, Nihon Keizai said.
In August 2003 China began drilling several kilometers west of a line in the East China Sea proposed by Tokyo to mark the boundary of the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones of the two countries.
Japan protested the drilling but China, which has not recognized this demarcation line, said its economic rights extend almost as far as Okinawa.
Last July, Japan, which relies heavily on the Middle East for its oil needs, launched undersea resource surveys on its side of the line.
The two governments are continuing talks on natural resources issues with China proposing joint development of natural gas.
The issue is compounded by a territorial row in the East China Sea over the Senkaku (Diaoyutai) islands, which lie between Taiwan and Japan and are also claimed by Taipei.
China and Taiwan laid claims to the Japanese owned islands after a UN economic agency reported oil deposits in the East China Sea.