Concerns were rising that the flap over Chinese Vice-Prime Minister Wu Yi's cancelled meeting with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Tokyo on Monday would further inflame tensions that erupted in violent anti-Japan protests in China last month.

 

"There was no word of apology," Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said on Tuesday. "Even though urgent duty may be unavoidable, there is supposed to be a word of apology, and without it a society cannot function."

 

Wu's was the first high-level Chinese visit to Japan in more than a year, and China has not clarified why she was recalled a day early.

 

But its Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday Beijing was "extremely unsatisfied" over Japanese comments on the shrine during her eight-day trip, adding to speculation in Tokyo that the shrine issue was the reason why the meeting was scuttled.

 

Chinese state-run media cited comments last week by Koiuzmi that he did not understand why he should stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honours war dead, including convicted war criminals.

 

Japan's Internal Affairs Minister Taro Aso said the cancelled meeting had "greatly contributed" to the deterioration of relations between China and Japan.

 

"In terms of manners, it lacked common sense," Aso said.

 

Goodwill visits

 

The flare-up comes amid a general effort by the two countries to smooth over relations in the wake of last month's riots. Chinese and Japanese officials have travelled back and forth between the two countries in a series of goodwill visits.

 

Talks were meant to improve ties
after last month's riots

Koizumi expressed surprise and dismay over the cancellation, and Machimura, on Monday, demanded an explanation for the sudden change in plans.

 

Chinese officials only said Wu had urgent domestic duties, though, on Tuesday, she embarked on an official visit to Mongolia.

 

Machimura also compared the rudeness of the cancellation with Chinese rioters, who pelted the Japanese Embassy and businesses with stones in anti-Japan protests last month.

 

The high-level exchange had been billed by both sides as a potential step towards improving ties soured by last month's violent anti-Japanese riots in China over Japan's second world war aggression, and Beijing's resistance to Tokyo's bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat.

 

Underscoring those disputes is the two powers' long-standing rivalry for economic and political dominance in Asia.

 

Controversial shrine

 

Beijing has long been angered by Koizumi's annual pilgrimages to a Tokyo war shrine, saying they ignore Chinese sensitivities and pay homage to Japan's militarist past.

 

Visits to the Yasukuni Shrine 
strain Sino-Japan relations

"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," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday.

 

"China is extremely unsatisfied with it."

 

Koizumi and other government officials have dismissed any links between Yasukuni and the cancellation; but many in Japan speculated that the prime minister's comments last week, in which he said he saw no reason not to worship there, had angered the Chinese.

 

"If Prime Minister Koizumi wants to have a breakthrough in Japan-China relations, while continuing to visit the shrine, he has to offer a reasonable explanation to China," Mainichi newspaper said in an editorial on Tuesday.