China said diplomatic relations with Japan were at a three-decade low and that Tokyo – by refusing to face up to its militaristic past – was to blame.
Japan expressed anger at Beijing’s refusal to apologise for violent protests that left windows smashed at its diplomatic missions.
“It shouldn’t be us who should apologise,” said Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei. “It is Japan who should apologise.”
Simmering tensions over several issues came to a boiling point this month when Japan approved a new textbook that critics say whitewashes the country’s Second World War atrocities.
Protesters in several Chinese cities also have rallied against Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, with tens of thousands taking to the streets over the weekend.
Police in Shanghai stood by as rioters – some shouting “Kill the Japanese” - threw stones, eggs and plastic bottles at the Japanese Consulate, and damaged restaurants and cars.
Last week, demonstrators smashed windows at the embassy in Beijing and attacked at least two Japanese students.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao were arranging for a possible meeting in Jakarta over the weekend, where both will be attending the Asia-Africa summit.
But Koizumi, speaking to reporters in Tokyo, cautioned: “If it’s going to be the exchange of harsh words, it’s better not to meet”.
Wu, the Chinese vice minister, said at a press conference today that blame for the diplomatic row “falls on the Japanese side”.
Wu said Japan had failed to handle “historical issues correctly” – an apparent reference to the new textbooks. Many Chinese believe Japan has never truly shown remorse for offences committed during its invasion of China.
“There are serious difficulties in the China-Japan relationship and these difficulties are the most serious ones since 1972, when China and Japan normalised relations,” Wu said.
Yesterday, Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura flew to Beijing to seek an apology of the anti-Japanese demonstrations and compensation for damage. His Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing declined, saying China had not wronged the Japanese.
Li told Machimura that Tokyo must take “concrete action” to show it is facing up to history, the China Daily newspaper reported today on its website.
Machimura met State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan today and the two discussed “the current state of bilateral relations, history, Taiwan and the textbook issues,” said Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima. He did not elaborate.
Japan said today that it was disappointed by China’s lack of regret over the anti-Japanese demonstrations, and its failure to explain how the rallies escalated into riots that left windows smashed.
“No matter what the reasons are, violence is not acceptable,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, as Japan’s benchmark Nikkei stock index suffered its largest one-day drop in more than four months.
“We find it regrettable that no clear explanation was presented” during the talks Sunday between Li and Machimura, Hosoda said. “We find it extremely regrettable” that there was no apology.
In addition to the textbook dispute, ill will between the two Asian giants has been brewing over gas resources in disputed seas and Tokyo’s campaign to join China, Britain, France, Russia and the US as a permanent member of an expanded UN Security Council.
Some have suggested that Beijing permitted earlier protests to undermine the Security Council campaign by Tokyo, a rival for regional dominance. Beijing is currently the only Asian government with a permanent seat and veto power on the 15-member council.
The major Japanese newspaper Mainichi said today that a new poll found three-quarters of Japanese surveyed think Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was failing to do enough to improve relations with China.
Mainichi said that in a weekend telephone poll, 34% of the respondents attributed the anti-Japanese sentiment to the “domestic situation” in China, while 26% blamed the Japanese government’s approach to history.
Thirteen per cent blamed Koizumi’s repeated visits to a controversial war shrine in Tokyo, while 11% pointed to Japan’s UN Security Council bid.