| Chinese vice-premier Wu Yi in Nagoya, Japan, before her visit was cancelled. (AFP)
Beijing/Tokyo, May 24 (Reuters): China vented anger today over Japanese leaders’ remarks on visiting a shrine for war dead, a day after a top Chinese official abruptly cancelled a meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister in an apparent snub to Tokyo.
Chinese vice-premier Wu Yi called off talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi yesterday, prompting a diplomatic stir over a trip that had raised hopes that fences could be mended after violent anti-Japanese protests in April.
“The Japanese government, especially some leaders, do not have a correct understanding and unceasingly spread incorrect remarks regarding history,” assistant foreign minister Shen Guofang said in Beijing.
“We think it was very inappropriate to make those remarks while vice-premier Wu Yi was visiting.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan later said the Japanese comments had spoiled the “necessary and appropriate atmosphere for such a meeting”.
Japan's relations with China, where bitter memories of its wartime aggression run deep, have been troubled by a series of feuds including Chinese anger at Koizumi’s annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine, where convicted war criminals are honoured along with Japan’s 2.5 million war dead.
“This is the most sensitive issue in relations between the two countries,” Shen said. “If the Japanese government can adopt a very wise attitude and not visit, many problems in Sino-Japanese relations can be easily resolved.”
In what could be seen as an effort to keep lines of communication open, Shen reiterated that “sudden internal” commitments at home had been the main reason for calling off the meeting. Wu, the top-ranking woman in the Chinese government, was the most senior Beijing official to visit Japan since 2003.
Koizumi, who last paid his respects at Yasukuni in January 2004, defended his visits last week, saying other countries should not interfere in how Japan mourned its war dead. He added that he would make an “appropriate decision” on when to go again ' a phrase he reiterated today.
Japan’s own public is divided over the visits, which Koizumi has said are to honour war dead and pray for peace. “It would have been good to meet. If we had talked, they would understand,” Koizumi said.
Wu’s early departure and her decision to go ahead with a visit to Mongolia today clearly angered Japanese officials.
“The situation is there is not even a word of apology over the sudden cancellation of the schedule,” foreign minister Nobutaka Machimura said today.
“I said yesterday that such things go against international manners,” he said. Other cabinet ministers were also critical, with some warning of a backlash in Japan against China.
“This will contribute to a worsening of Japanese sentiment toward China,” said internal affairs minister Taro Aso.