Mon May 23, 2005 07:25 AM ET
TOKYO (Reuters) – Visiting Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi canceled a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday and left a day early, prompting a diplomatic stir over a trip some had hoped would help repair frayed ties.
China cited domestic commitments as the reason for calling off the meeting by Wu, Beijing’s top-ranking woman and the most senior Chinese official to visit Japan since 2003.
But the cancellation — a diplomatic rarity — and the fact that Wu was going ahead with a visit to Mongolia on Tuesday clearly angered Japanese officials. One called on Beijing for a “clear explanation” of what could be taken as a diplomatic snub.
“The prime minister of the country had made plans for a meeting and it was canceled for some reason which is not very clear. I think they (China) need to give an explanation,” a top Foreign Ministry official told reporters.
“What do they think of diplomatic manners or rules?” he asked. “There seems to be something in common with the recent vandalism against our diplomatic missions,” he said, referring to anti-Japanese protests which swept Chinese cities last month.
Sino-Japanese relations have been troubled by a series of feuds including Chinese anger at Koizumi’s visits to a Tokyo shrine for the war dead seen by Beijing as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
“Because of work needs, Vice Premier Wu Yi had to revise her schedule for visiting Japan and return to China to handle important, urgent official duties,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Mongolia’s Foreign Ministry, however, confirmed that she would travel there as expected on Tuesday.
Koizumi said he did not know why Wu had to leave early.
“It would have been a good opportunity since the meeting was proposed by them,” Koizumi told reporters.
“I would meet them anytime if they want to meet,” he said. “If they don’t want to meet, there is no need to.”
Another senior Japanese official said he wanted to keep the cancellation from hurting bilateral ties.
“I want to improve and further develop Japan-China ties … I want to avoid this from having an effect,” Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi told a news conference.
A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the cancellation did not appear related to Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni shrine, where convicted war criminals are honored along with Japan’s 2.5 million war dead.
China, where bitter memories of Japan’s wartime invasion persist, has repeatedly criticized the visits to the shrine, which Koizumi says are to honor war dead and pray for peace.
“The Chinese side made it very specific that it has nothing to do with Yasukuni,” spokesman Akira Chiba said.
Koizumi last visited Yasukuni in January 2004 and he said last week he would make an “appropriate decision” on when to go again.
Anti-Japan protests erupted in China last month, triggered by Tokyo’s approval of school textbooks that critics say whitewash its 1931-45 invasion and partial occupation of China and by its bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
A senior official of Koizumi’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party played down the significance of the cancellation but did say that some Japanese might regard it as a discourtesy.
“If it is due to urgent business it can’t be helped, but many people in Japan may feel it is rude,” Kyodo news agency quoted Shinzo Abe as saying.
Wu, a Beijing high-flyer, has handled crises ranging from foreign trade spats to public health issues. She took over as health minister in 2003 after her predecessor was sacked for his handling of the SARS viral epidemic.
Though she recently relinquished the health portfolio, as a vice premier and member of the 24-member Politburo the former oil executive continues to oversee foreign trade.
In a speech on Monday morning, in which she also reiterated China’s commitment to reforming its yuan currency, Wu emphasized the need for Japan and China to improve ties.
“Currently the relationship between the two countries is not satisfactory or benign,” she said through an interpreter.
“The maintenance of such a situation will not serve the interests of the two countries. We must change the trend as quickly as possible,” Wu said.
“China is praying for friendship between the two countries.”
Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao pulled ties back from the brink last month after Koizumi gave a rare Japanese public apology for suffering caused by past military aggression.
But tensions persist, putting at risk growing economic ties between the two countries that generated nearly $170 billion worth of trade in 2004.
(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg, Shinichi Kishima and George Nishiyama)
Masayuki Kitano – Reuters
Mon May 23, 2005 07:25 AM ET