The Asahi Shimbun
The government plans to spend up to 100 billion yen on undersea research to establish its claim to the continental shelf around Japan in time for a 2009 U.N. deadline.
Land, infrastructure and transport minister Chikage Ogi said Tuesday Cabinet ministers had agreed to cooperate on the project. So far only the Japan Coast Guard has been carrying out the research.
Exploration of the seabed indicates the continental shelf area the government is eyeing contains possibly tens of trillions of yen worth of natural resources of the kind Japan currently has to import.
The government plans to cover the 100 billion yen cost of the project with state budgets, and may give the research work to private firms equipped with the appropriate research vessels.
A Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry ship that is capable of carrying out the drilling work will only be available for 70 days this year.
To make matters worse, the education ministry's two sonar mapping ships are not available for the research this year.
Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which took effect in 1994, a coastal nation can claim continental shelf up to 650 kilometers from its coast, provided it establishes that the shelf is geographically continuous with the country's land and shares a similar geological structure.
Japan must meet a May 2009 deadline to apply for U.N. approval of its claim.
The Japan Coast Guard's research so far suggests that Japan may be able to claim about 650,000 square kilometers of new continental shelf-an area 70 percent larger than Japan's land mass. But the United Nations' screening criteria is proving to be more strict than Tokyo had originally anticipated.
Ogi said Japan could possibly become a nation rich in natural resources if its claim to the continental shelf gets U.N. approval.
``There will be gold, silver and cobalt equivalent to 5,000 years (of domestic consumption) each, manganese equivalent to 1,000 years' consumption and natural gas equivalent to 100 years' consumption. In terms of money, the value will amount to tens of trillion yen,'' she said.
Ogi said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had accepted her request that he lead the government in carrying out the ``national project'' of researching the shelf.(IHT/Asahi: July 10,2003)