Anti-Japanese demonstrations involving tens of thousands of sometimes-violent protesters have erupted in numerous Chinese cities in recent weeks over a government-approved Japanese textbook that critics say whitewashes the country's wartime atrocities.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, who departed from China on Tuesday after a three-day visit, had sought an apology and compensation from China for damage during the riots.

China hesitated, saying Japan was to blame for the diplomatic spat and should be the one to apologise.

Heightened worries

Beijing said it was considering Japan's proposal to have its prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, meet one-on-one President Hu Jintao during a conference of Asian and African leaders in Indonesia. 

Machimura was seeking an
apology from China for the riots

However, Koizumi said "if it's going to be a exchange of harsh words, it's better not to meet".

The rhetoric and protests have raised worries about the potential effect on the economic relationship between Asia's two biggest economies, which are linked by billions of dollars in trade and investment.

Japan's Trade Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said he doubted China could be trusted as a law-abiding nation.

"It is only natural for anyone to offer an apology and compensation if he or she damages other people's property," he said on Tuesday. "When there is no response despite our request, we cannot help but doubt [China's] reliability as a state governed by the law.

"In a country where people believe they can do whatever they want in the name of patriotism, we cannot call it a law-abiding government," Nakagawa added.

Interests attacked

Protesters have smashed windows of Japan's diplomatic missions and damaged Japanese restaurants. In Japan, Chinese diplomatic offices and other facilities linked to China also have been targeted in the past week in apparent retaliation.

The government-linked Chinese company that owns the Japanese embassy in Beijing said last week it would repair the damage to the building, but Japan declined the offer because it wants more comprehensive compensation, said Japanese embassy spokesman Ide Keiji.

Chinese interests in Japan have
also been attacked

On Tuesday, the head of Japan's National Public Safety Commission, Yoshitaka Murata, said he regretted the violence and vandalism in Japan - which included metal pellets fired at a Chinese school and paint smeared on the Chinese ambassador's residence - and pledged to try to stop it.

Thousands of Japanese tourists cancelled trips to China amid indications that the spat could hurt two of the world's most important economies.

Japanese officials expressed worry over a plunge in travel to China. "Some damage to tourism cannot be avoided," Transport Minister Kazuo Kitagawa said in Tokyo.

All Nippon Airways said it expected 12,000 passengers to cancel trips to China in April, while Japan Airlines said 5500 travellers booked for China in April and May had already cancelled.

Investor concern

Some analysts said Japanese companies were not taking the
anti-Japan sentiment and unrest seriously enough - a concern investors appeared to share.

"In a country where people believe they can do whatever they want in the name of patriotism, we cannot call it a law-abiding government" 

Shoichi Nakagawa,
Japanese trade minister
The benchmark Nikkei Stock Average plunged 3.8% on Monday to end at its lowest point since 16 December, although share prices rebounded on Tuesday on bargain-hunting.

Many Chinese are angry over what they consider Japan's failure to atone for its conquest of Asia, and by the modern rivalry for energy resources and regional dominance.

Street protests erupted after Japan approved the new history textbooks. The books condense or omit references in earlier volumes to the Japanese military's germ warfare and sex slavery of Asian women.

Compensation sought

Underscoring the controversy, Japan's High Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by 10 Chinese victims seeking official compensation for damages caused by outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, anthrax and typhoid in China that were allegedly caused by a Japanese army unit.

Tokyo has acknowledged the unit's existence, but has yet to detail its activities.

In a related development, China will seek Unesco World Heritage protection for the ruins of a Japanese germ warfare centre during World War II called Unit 731, Xinhua news agency said on Tuesday.

Jin Chengmin, a researcher with the Harbin Municipal Academy of Social Sciences, pointed to the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in Poland and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan as precedents for Unesco protection of war ruins.

"The Unit 731 site should also qualify as a World Heritage site," Jin was quoted as saying. "The remaining ruins can serve as a reminder of the horrible atrocities Japanese troops committed in China."

Security Council seat

China's leaders also are alarmed at proposals to give Japan a permanent seat on an expanded UN Security Council, with veto power.

China is now the only Asian member of the elite group of five nations with permanent seats. The United States, Russia, Britain and France hold the others.

In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan encouraged Hu and Koizumi to sit down together to settle the fight.