Oil Report

Gas talks won't affect Japan PM's visit, China says

BEIJING, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s plans to visit China will not be affected by the state of talks on energy resources in disputed waters, China said on Thursday, contradicting comments from Japan.

The 11th round of talks on how to develop natural gas in the East China Sea ended on Wednesday with no sign of progress, prompting Japan’s top government spokesman to say the dispute could affect the Fukuda visit.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said that was not the case.

“China welcomes Prime Minister Fukuda to visit as early as possible,” Liu told a news conference.

“I believe the two countries, as important countries in the region, both highly value the interests of each other and I believe the East China Sea issue is a minor issue in bilateral relations.”

“China attaches importance to high-level exchanges and we welcome Fukuda’s visit,” he said.

Japanese media have said Fukuda, who took office in September, could make his first trip to China at the end of the year or early in 2008.

Under his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, bilateral ties between the Asian giants -- which are dogged by a range of disputes over territory stemming from Japan’s wartime invasion of China -- warmed dramatically.

But the two have yet to make progress on the East China Sea issue.

Both sides are eager to secure additional oil and gas supplies but disagree over where the maritime boundary separating their exclusive economic zones should lie.

Liu said China was committed to joint development of the fields.

“We hope Japan can meet us halfway on this,” he said.

China’s CNOOC said earlier this year it had begun producing gas from the area, raising Japanese fears that such production could siphon resources from what Tokyo sees as its side of the zone. (Reporting by Lindsay Beck, editing by Roger Crabb)