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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 May 2006, 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK
Japan and China to hold gas talks
A gas drilling rig operated by a Chinese consortium in the East China Sea (July 2004)
The gas dispute is one several irritants between the two sides
Japan and China are to resume talks next week on a long-running dispute over gas fields in the East China sea.

A top Japanese spokesman also said that the two sides were trying to arrange a meeting between foreign ministers.

The developments followed a series of meetings between vice-foreign ministers of the two countries.

Talks between the two sides have stalled amid tension over the Japanese leader's visits to a controversial shrine to the country's war dead.

The decisions to hold further talks on the gas dispute came after discussions between Japan's Vice Foreign Minister, Shotaro Yachi, and his Chinese counterpart, Dai Bingguo, who have been meeting in China this week.

Both China and Japan have claimed the right to develop undersea gas fields which straddle areas each say is their territory. No major progress was made at a fourth round of talks held in Beijing in March.

Japanese Trade and Industry Minister Toshihiro Nikai said the gas talks would take place in Tokyo next week, Kyodo news agency reported.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed in a statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency that the talks would take place in mid-May, but did not specify where.

'Multilateral occasion'

A possible meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and his Japanese counterpart, Taro Aso, was also discussed.

The two vice foreign ministers discussed "talks between their foreign ministers in the near future at multilateral occasions", the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe confirmed the move. "We are trying to set a date through diplomatic channels," he said.

Japan has suggested the meeting could take place on the sidelines of the Asia Co-operation Dialogue, which will take place in Qatar on 23 and 24 May, Masaru Okada of the Japanese embassy in Beijing told the AFP news agency.

The two sides have not held high-levels talks for several months. In October 2005, China called off a visit by Japan's then Foreign Minister, Nobutaka Machimura, in apparent protest at Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.

The shrine honours Japan's war dead, including 14 people judged as war criminals after World War II.

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