Agreement heralded as model for future A vice-minister of foreign affairs yesterday defended a deal to jointly develop the disputed East China Sea gas fields with Japan as a transitional arrangement that would not compromise China's sovereignty. Wu Dawei made the remarks following an outpouring of nationalistic criticism online that likened the agreement to 'selling out China's territory'. A protest by 500 people in Changsha , the capital of Hunan province , took place on Wednesday, the day the agreement was announced. But in an unusual press conference that followed the regular Foreign Ministry briefing yesterday, Mr Wu said the agreement had been reached on the condition that China's jurisdiction and sovereignty rights in the East China Sea would not be compromised. 'The agreement will not compromise China's legal position and China's stand on the demarcation [of boundaries] in the East China Sea,' he said. The sea has been the subject of conflict between China and Japan because the neighbours hold different views on the boundaries of their exclusive maritime economic zones. Japan insists that the median line marks the boundary in the East China Sea, but China rejects the idea, defining the boundary by the continental shelf. Mr Wu said the agreement was a transitional one that would allow both countries to move forward. 'The issue [of demarcation] won't be solved in the short run. If China and Japan don't properly settle the issue - and allow it to exacerbate - this will definitely hamper Sino-Japanese relations,' he said. According to the agreement, China and Japan will jointly explore a 2,700 sq km area straddling the median line. The most sensitive zone, the Chunxiao gas field, was set up by China and is within China's territory, but under the deal, Japanese investment will be allowed in the project. The agreement prompted concerns from some critics and mainland netizens worried that the compromise might be interpreted as a tacit recognition of the median line. In some mainland chat rooms, netizens wondered why the joint development had to be conducted along the median line. 'Territory west of the median line is China's sovereignty, so why are they jointly developing it?' one critic wrote. 'China has been raped by Japan. China's negotiation on demarcation has failed! The joint development has to be conducted between the boundary lines the two sides are sticking to.' Mr Wu sought to minimise the controversy yesterday, saying that Japanese investment in a Chinese oil company was not 'joint development' but 'co-operative development' in the area. 'Under the agreement, operations in the Chunxiao gas field will be conducted according to Chinese law, and Japan recognises that the Chunxiao sovereignty rights belong to China,' he said. Mr Wu hailed the agreement as a model to be emulated in future. 'We hope this realisation [of setting aside conflicts and embracing joint development] will help to solve maritime conflicts between China and other countries,' he said. With a coastline of about 18,000km, China also has maritime territorial tensions with such neighbours as Vietnam in the South China Sea and South Korea in the East China Sea. Mr Wu said the agreement showed that China and Japan had the wisdom and ability to solve sensitive issues.