Sat, Dec 03, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Japan to increase patrols around disputed gas field

AFP , TOKYO

Japan plans to dramatically increase the number of boats and planes patrolling a gas field disputed with China in the East China Sea, an official said yesterday, amid high tension between the neighbors.

The Japan Coast Guard is asking the finance ministry for about ¥28.7 billion (US$240 million) in its budget for fiscal 2006 to upgrade and increase the patrol boats and planes.

The money would pay for 21 new boats and seven new jets, along with the replacement of six existing boats and four old planes, coast guard spokesman Takatoshi Nagasaki said.

"We demanded this increase in size because of mounting concerns in the East China Sea area, especially the area near the disputed gas field," Nagasaki said.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party supports the effort, with its special committee on territorial water interests on Thursday asking for a ¥300 billion budget over the next seven years, he said.

The budget for a fiscal year starting in April is usually approved in parliament by early March.

Beijing and Tokyo have been sparring for years over the potentially lucrative gas fields in an area where their 370km exclusive economic zones overlap.

The Japanese side has proposed joint development in the area straddling what Tokyo says is the maritime boundary.

China, however, does not recognize the boundary and this year began commercial drilling, leading to Tokyo's accusations that it is extracting Japanese resources underground.

China dispatched warships twice in September to the area, including just before a round of talks on the dispute that yielded little progress.

Last year, Japan protested the intrusion of a Chinese nuclear submarine near the gas fields.

China has said its relations with Japan are at their worst level since diplomatic relations were re-established 30 years ago, due to the energy dispute and memories of Japanese occupation.

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