China said Friday it had every right to drill in the East China Sea close to waters disputed with Japan, adding that it did not recognize a “unilateral” Japanese median line setting out a boundary between the two in the waters, Reuters reports.

Japan this week called on China to halt construction of oil-and-gas exploration platforms in the East China Sea close to waters claimed by both nations, concerned that Chinese drills could tap reservoirs that extend into Japanese territory.

Chinese gas rigs in the East China Sea, near the median line between the shores of Japan and China
This photo posted by Japan shows Chinese gas rigs in the East China Sea, near the median line between the shores of Japan and China

Patrol ships and aircraft from both countries have been shadowing each other in the area over the past couple of years, raising fears of a confrontation and clash.

In an escalation of the latest dispute, Japan released aerial photographs of China’s construction in the area, accusing it of unilateral development and a halfhearted attitude toward a 2008 agreement to jointly develop resources there.

China resumed exploration in the East China Sea two years ago, Japan said. In 2012, Japan’s government angered China by buying a disputed island chain there from private owners.

Before then, China had curtailed activities under an agreement with Japan to jointly develop undersea resources in disputed areas.

The platforms are being erected on the Chinese side of a median line delineating the exclusive economic zones of the two countries, according to a Japanese ministry official .

China’s Foreign Ministry said its drilling activities in waters which are not disputed and under Chinese administration are “completely appropriate and legal”.

“China and Japan have not yet delineated maritime boundaries in the East China Sea, and China does not recognize the Japanese side’s unilateral marking out of a so-called ‘median line’,” the ministry said in a statement.

China’s position is that it had a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, and its continental shelf in the East China Sea extends to the Okinawa Trough, it added.

Japan was the one distorting the consensus reached in 2008, and Japan should “create good conditions and atmosphere” for resuming talks, which China sees as a good way of managing the dispute, the ministry said.

US not ‘netural’

The United States is not neutral when it comes to following international law in the South China Sea, Washington’s top diplomat for East Asia said, according to People’s Daily.

“We will come down forcefully when it comes to following the rules,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said in response to a question raised by a Chinese participant during a keynote speech delivered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. He also said China’s view of U.S. ‘neutral position’ in the South China Sea was a misunderstanding.

Earlier, Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet on July 20 confirmed that he had been aboard a seven-hour surveillance flight over the South China Sea.

All these words and actions by US officials make Chinese observers and scholars believe that they are behind the back of the Philippines and Japan to confront China.

Liutao, deputy head of the Research Center for Maritime Sea of China Institute for South China studies, told Global Times that US “taking sides” just makes things worse in the South China Sea, adding that the peace and stability in the area can only be achieved by cooperation and mutual-trust among counties surrounding the South China Sea.

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