Chinese state-run oil companies hope to develop seven new gas fields in the East China Sea, possibly siphoning gas from the seabed beneath waters claimed by Japan, a move that could further inflame tensions with Tokyo over the disputed area.Beijing had slowed exploration in the energy-rich East China Sea, one of Asia’s biggest security risks due to competing territorial claims, but is now rapidly expanding its hunt for gas, a cheaper and cleaner energy to coal and oil imports.
The move threatens to kill an old compromise with Japan, and is more about geopolitics than energy—there might not be much gas in this area, and what’s there is hard to get. Tokyo has protested against China unilaterally drilling in the area, claiming that Chinese activity crosses the boundary lines, and a few days ago Tokyo vowed to respond with ships exploring “right up to the median line.”Clearly neither Beijing nor Tokyo can or wants to back down from their territorial disputes. Earlier today, Shinzo Abe’s administration won a thunderous endorsement in parliamentary elections. His party now has control of both houses of parliament. Abe is a nationalist and a hawk, and his strong foreign policy and intention to revitalize and expand Japan’s military have been quite popular. Tokyo’s aggressive stance against China is likely to continue. The chances of an accident on the high seas sparking open conflict grow greater every day.[Japanese warships photo courtesy of Getty Images]