China expressed extreme dissatisfaction on Tuesday with remarks by Japanese leaders on visiting a controversial war shrine, state media said, a day after a top Chinese official cut short a trip to Japan in protest.
Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi cancelled 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 ties which have deteriorated to their worst state in decades.
China, where bitter memories of Japan’s wartime invasion persist, has repeatedly criticized the visits to the Yasukuni shrine, where convicted war criminals are honored along with Japan’s 2.5 million war dead.
Koizumi says the visits are to honor war dead and pray for peace.
“To our regret, during Vice Premier Wu Yi’s stay in Japan, Japanese leaders repeatedly made remarks on visiting the Yasukuni shrine that go against the efforts to improve Sino-Japanese relations,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan as saying.
“China is extremely unsatisfied with it.”
Koizumi last visited the shrine in January 2004 and said last week he would make an “appropriate decision” on when to go again.
Kong said the Chinese government attached great importance to Sino-Japanese relations and had made unremitting efforts to develop bilateral relations. “Vice Premier Wu Yi’s visit to Japan is the best demonstration of it,” he said.
China had earlier 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.
Anti-Japanese protests swept Chinese cities last month with demonstrators pelting Japanese missions and the ambassador’s residence in Beijing with rocks and eggs and vandalizing Japanese restaurants.
The protests were triggered by Tokyo’s approval of a school textbook that critics say whitewashes its 1931-45 invasion and partial occupation of China and by its bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Back from the brink, barely
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Koizumi met in Jakarta on the sidelines of the Asia-Africa summit in April, pulling relations between the Asian giants back from the brink. But analysts said memories of Japan’s wartime history and rivalry for influence will keep ties fragile.
Koizumi said on Monday he did not know why Wu had to leave early and that it would have been a good opportunity to repair ties since the meeting was proposed by China.
“I would meet them any time if they want to meet,” Koizumi told reporters. “If they don’t want to meet, there is no need to.”
Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Akira Chiba said on Monday the cancellation did not appear related to Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni shrine.
“The Chinese side made it very specific that it has nothing to do with Yasukuni,” the spokesman said.