China refused to say on Thursday whether Premier Wen Jiabao will meet Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan at a regional summit this month, and a Chinese diplomat accused Japanese foreign affairs minister of rekindling ill-will.
The swipe at Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara by Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue exposed the prickly tensions that still dog ties between Asia’s two biggest economies, despite their efforts to overcome a maritime dispute.
Hu told a news conference that whether Wen and Kan have a bilateral meeting during an Asian summit in Hanoi from Oct. 28 rested on creating a “suitable atmosphere”, and Beijing holds Tokyo responsible for not doing that, he said.
“We hope that Japan and China can both come together and take practical steps to show their sincerity in seeking to improve relations between our two countries, rather than continuing to make remarks that fly in the face of that, and doing things that fly in the face of that,” Hu told a news conference in Beijing.
China’s sharp words may reopen tensions when Asian economies are looking for Beijing and Tokyo to overcome their quarrels. Sino-Japanese relations tumbled last month after Japan detained a Chinese trawler captain whose boat collided with Japanese patrol ships near a chain of disputed islands — called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Before the captain’s release, China cancelled diplomatic meetings in protest. Concerns have been simmering that Beijing is holding back shipments of rare earth minerals that are vital for electronics goods and auto parts.
Kan and Wen both called for better ties at an informal meeting in Brussels earlier this month, but they also stressed their claims to the uninhabited islands. Japan and China have been trying to arrange a meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the gathering in Vietnam.
The Chinese diplomat Hu said that Japan’s foreign minister had on Oct. 15 undercut efforts to repair ties by saying that there was no need to rush to hold the leaders’ summit. Maehara also said then that Japan would “not budge an inch” regarding its claim to sovereignty over the islands.