Japan lodged a complaint over China’s apparent development of gas fields between the two countries in the East China Sea, reports said Wednesday, amid fears that China could be tapping Japanese energy resources.

An aerial view of Uotsuri Island, one of the disputed Senkaku islands in the East China Sea
An aerial view of Uotsuri Island, one of the disputed Senkaku islands in the East China Sea

Two gas flares had been spotted near the median line between the two countries, suggesting gas production has started, Kyodo News agency reported Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga as saying, dpa says.

The two flares are in addition to flares previously noticed at five of China’s 16 facilities in the area, Suga said.

“It is extremely regrettable that (China) has unilaterally proceeded with the development while the boundary between Japan and China has not yet been fixed,” Suga said.

Officials say the wells, if operational, could tap gas fields that extend into Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Japan is calling for setting the halfway line as the boundary between the two nations’ exclusive economic zones (EEZ), or the ocean territory in which a nation holds special resource development and exploration rights. But China claims an EEZ in the East China Sea covering its entire continental shelf, extending past the median line to the edge of the Okinawa Trough.

In July, Japan for the first time released photographs of China’s East China Sea gas platforms to highlight Beijing’s attempts to “change the status quo.”

Some in the government fear that some of the structures could be put to military use. The release of the photos may also reflect the government’s attempt to stoke public anxiety as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushes for passage of controversial bills that would expand Japan’s self-defense powers.

A scheme to exploit gas reserves jointly in the East China Sea, agreed in principle in 2008, has stalled in recent years.

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