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Japanese search for CBM could cause tensions with China

World Coal,

As Japan extends its exploration area for rare earth minerals and coalbed methane (CBM), it could encroach on Chinese territory and draw ire from the Asian behemoth – heightening already taught tensions between the two countries.

According to The Diplomat, Japan’s new cabinet has adopted an ordinance expanding the country’s continental shelf in two key southern locations – the Shikoku Basin and the Oki-Daito Ridge region. The two new areas will give Japan the right to develop resources that lie on or beneath the ocean floor – such as rare earth elements and CBM.

According to the UN commission that ruled on the extension, the move from the new cabinet may stir disputes with not only China, but also South Korea.

The area encompassed by the new ordinance covers 177 000 km2 of ocean, based on a decision by the UN’s commission on the limits of the continental shelf in April 2012, after Japan applied for the extension. Based on the UN convention on the Law of the Sea, a country may claim control of the seafloor beyond its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone up to 250 nautical miles, if “it can prove the ocean floor is connected to the continental shelf, according to the Japan Times.

Japan has expressed an interest in developing CBM projects – or alternatively underground coal gasification (UCG) projects – as a means to decrease its dependence on foreign energy. Tokyo has indicated its intention to explore and develop these new concessions for such energy resources as soon as possible, for practical economic purposes. However, as The Diplomat notes, “the de facto extension of Japanese sovereignty significantly further south into waters where China is also seeking to increase its influence could prove to be yet another point of tension between the two countries.”

The UN is yet to rule on a third extension applied for by Japan of an area much further south of the country, near the Philippines in the Southern Kyushu Palau Ridge region. There are fears that such concessions would give Tokyo effective seabed development rights over a majority of ocean floor between Japan, Guam, the Philippines and Taiwan – which would put an economic choke point in between China and a conceptual ‘second island chain’ of influence.

The ordinance will take effect from 1 October. According to Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, “It will help Japan to enhance its national interests through the development of resources.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the crafting of a government ordinance in July.

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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